a new low in topical enlightenment

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Issue #39 (March 31, 2010)

Off San Pedro, California

Photo by Mike Watt

Paris: Cinéma Capitale du Monde?

By Carolyn Heinze

The thing about the UGC Orient Express is that its actual name is the Orient Express. And you actually have the feeling that you’re sitting in a train. You’re not, in all actuality, even though the name is quite apt, and even though the French love, aiment, relish, adorent l’ironie, even though one has the feeling that in the ribbon-cutting, champagne-splashing ceremony, the irony went rattling right over the officials’ carefully-coiffed French heads.

But yes, it’s true, c’est vrai: when you’re seated in a seat in the UGC Orient Express, you’re also seated in close proximity to a real-live, real-life, honest-to-goodness, genuine actual train. Also containing seats. Only it’s not the Métro; it’s the RER – the Parisian equivalent to Berlin’s S-Bahn. You can tell by the sound of the brakes as they squeal down your spine. In fact, if you’re not actually riding in it, you’re practically seated right beside it. As in it’s just on the actual other side of the actual wall. Which was built to the exact sound-muffling specifications of a Parisian apartment wall. And when you’re there, sitting there, seated there, actually watching a movie? And you get to one of those silent, quiet, shhh!, no-dialogue, show-don’t-tell plan fixe parts? You can hear the actual train. No, non, pardon, il faut préciser: You can actually feel it. You kind of want to look up at the map and check to see if you just missed your stop. You’re not so much a film-goer as a passenger.

Admittedly, one must admit, the UGC Orient Express – on the Right Bank, in the first arrondissement, nestled, cushioned, hidden, sequestered, quarantined, buried alive in the brick-and-cement bowels of the brick-and-cement Les Halles – is not the best Parisian venue in which to see a film, French or otherwise. And admittedly, one must admit, the UGC Ciné Cité – also on the Right Bank, also in the first arrondissement, also in Les Halles, only not in the brick-and-cement bowel-y part but upstairs, in the brick-and-cement bunker-y part – is not the best place to see a film, French or otherwise, either, you gotta admit. Les Halles (said like it’s spelled, only you don’t pronounce the “H” or the “s”), admittedly, is une horreur.

(They’re going to blow it up someday, Les Halles. Someday soon. Start all over again, make it new-and-improved. Kinda like they already did once before back in the Sixties, when they blew up all the perfectly pretty Parisian metal-and-glass pavilions that housed the perfectly provincial producers of flowers and fish and fruit, producers who produced the products that eventually wound up in all of those perfectly prettily-Parisian cafés and boutiques and shops. . . and then they blew it all up and shipped everyone out, or down, down to the south of the city, to the suburbs, to the banlieue, to Rungis.) (Said like it’s spelled, with the “s” and everything.) And now we have Les Halles, even though it’s no longer Les Halles, once the thriving, throbbing heart of Paris, now just a commercial structure of chain restaurants and chain stores and chain services that the sane mostly avoid. Les Halles – translation: Une horreur. As one Parisian, born and bred and raised, put it: “Lousy architects should be forced to exist in their own buildings.” Bien entendu !)

But that’s another story.

Here’s the real one: If you want to see a movie in Paris, don’t go to Les Halles. Or only go if you’re on deadline and you’re kinda procrastinating, but in that half-assed, uncommitted way when you don’t want to procrastinate too long, and since it’s on the Line Four and your apartment is too, you go, just this once, or just this one time this one week. For convenience. And don’t go to any of the other usines (factories. . . how the French refer to mega-plexes) that are, thankfully, not all that numerous here in town, in the centre-ville, in Paris, intra-muros. Go to some little street or some little lane or some petit passage on the Left Bank or Right Bank or somewhere in between, to one of those weeny-teeny, cubby-holey holes-in-the-wall with an old-fashioned marquee and an old-fashioned candy machine and old-fashioned seats and old-fashioned décor and an old-fashioned, cute, charming, adorably old little old man who sells you tickets and then who takes your tickets and then who sometimes acts as advisor and counselor and critic and confidant, and quite frequently is the projectioniste too. And then you get seated and then the lights go dim and most times there are trailers and sometimes there are ads too, and then the lights go even dimmer and you’re watching Gérard Depardieu back when he was still good-looking, back in the day of Les Valseuses (Going Places), or Jeanne Moreau being wooed by both Jules et Jim, or Alain Delon back in the day when he was still sexy and wore cool suits, or Brigitte Bardot back when she was still sexy and she too wore cool suits, or Catherine Deneuve back, way back, before she started to look like a drag queen, or Belmondo in black-and-white, which is really the only way anyone should ever watch Belmondo. Or Michel Blanc back when he first began not having any hair or Jean-Hugues Anglade back when he first started out always being in the buff, or Miou-Miou or Mastroianni or Lino Ventura or Michel Piccoli or Jean Gabin or Jean-Pierre Léaud or Romy Schneider or. . .

And then there’s all the new films, les nouvelles sorties. . . and Blanc still has no hair and Anglade is still always running around in the buff but then there are all the new stars, les nouvelles stars, some established, some up-and-coming, some somewhere in between, like Ludivine Saignier (she’s hot) or Monica Belucci (she used to be hot) or Vincent Cassel (pretty good, but not to be allowed to speak English with a Russian accent ever again. . . too much like Kevin Costner’s English accent in Robin Hood) or Benoît Magimel (so much talent, so much promise, but then there was that film with the ménage à trois and there was a dead girl in the threesome. . . what was that all about?); Romain Duris (sooooo hot!) and Cécile de France (got it on with Romain Duris in L’auberge espagnole . . . bitch!) and Laetitia Casta (model-slash-“actress”) and Emmanuelle Béart (she’s really cute but her lips look like they’re going to explode and it makes me too nervous) or Garrel (Louis, son of Philippe; hot, but not as hot as Romain Duris) (but who is?) (but it’s a toss up as to which has the sexier sex-hair) or Gainsbourg (Charlotte, daughter of Serge and of Jane Birkin; fortunately, carries more of her mother’s genes than her dad’s) or Mastroianni (Chiara. . .as brooding and sexy as Papa Marcello); and then of course Daniel Auteuil (almost as absurdly prolific as Depardieu, who is required by law to be in one out of every three French films) and then of course Fanny Ardant and Nathalie Baye (it’s hard to say who’s more sultry and seductive, but consider the fact that they’re both way over 40 and still allowed to be sexy; the French disdain young wine) and then of course Fabrice Lucchini (I don’t know, there’s just something about him. . . you’d like to bring him home as decoration).

And that’s just the French stuff.

There are the American films, too, of course, of every era, and there’s the ones from Iran and Israel and India and Argentina and Algeria and Australia as well, not to mention those from South Korea and South Africa and Northern Ireland and southern Italy and from smack in the middle of Benin. Pick a country – or offshore tax haven or land-locked war haven, at peace or at battle or whatnot – and in Paris, they’re screening a movie from it, and not just for some one-off festival. (Of course there are those, too, by the Peugeot-load.) Seven days a week, all year round, from nine o’clock-ish in the morning to twelve o’clock-ish in the well, matin.

The Pariscope dedicates an average of 75 pages to movie listings each week, for repertory films or new films or films that are, you guessed it, somewhere in between. In version française (v.f.) for those who prefer their movie-watching to feature the French dubbed over or in version originale (v.o.) for those who prefer their movie-watching to be in the original language, only sous-titré. And for those who prefer to movie-watch while watching their budgets too, there are the cards, les cartes, the subscriptions, les abonnements. By the month (20 euros. . . or about 30 dollars américain for all your eyeballs can handle) or by the festival (3,50 euros, or five bucks) or by the cinema, too (depends on how many séances you buy). And if you’re unemployed or under-employed or over-employed but underpaid and overworked or just plain flat-out broke? Well, madames, messieurs et mademoiselles : This is France. You know, the one that some other countries find a wee bit too . . . I’m gonna write it . . . avert your eyes . . . socialist? The one oft-accused of forking over too much dough? And in France, even if you’re poor (and you probably are because the salaries here s-u-c-k) it doesn’t mean that you have to be hungry and uncultured, too. Because in France, the poor and the broke and the flat-out underpaid and over-worked and over-employed or under-employed have the right to access culture, low or high or, yep, somewhere in between, just like the under-worked, overpaid, usually under-cultured bourgeoisie. It’s just that they get a discount. Or the right to access it for free.

Kinda neat, huh? Kinda, as they say, démocratique.

Back at (or on) the UGC Orient Express . . .

The thing about French cinema is that the starlets don’t all resemble lollipops with breasts. You know, where they are so bony and jutty and skinny and stretched and then they go up to the altar or the podium or whatever they call that thing at the Academy Awards, and there they are, standing there, shuddering, shivering, teetering, crying and they make you think of newborns because, like newborns, they cry and because, like newborns, they look like they don’t really have the strength to hold up their heads? And it makes you want to force-feed them something drippy and greasy and hamburger-y just so they can get through their speech, and then when you finally cross your fingers and take a deep breath in hopes that their heads won’t actually just roll off what’s left of their bodies right there, right in the middle of the ceremony (although admittedly, one must admit that maybe such an event would actually lend the actual ceremony a certain pizzazz, a certain chutzpah, a certain je ne sais quoi. . .) and then your eyes finally trail down to their décollétés and there’s these two bursty-balloony things bursting and ballooning out in front of them and then down lower there’s just more skinny juttiness? Well, in French cinema there’s not so much of that. So if you’re into that kind of thing, then you might not be so much into French cinema.

Not to say that in French cinema, there aren’t breasts. It must be said that there are, admittedly, you gotta admit, some pretty fabulous ones. Real-looking actual ones, too. There’s also the odd lollipop-head, but there are definitely fewer lollipops and more breasts. On young actresses and old actresses and actresses that are somewhere. . . you get the idea. Large and small and sometimes saggy but mainly perky. It’s pretty great. Kinda perks things up.

What’s also great is that in Paris, the Frenchmen don’t whine and groan and moan and carry on about having to take their girlfriends to see chick-flicks. One might argue that this is because, by North American standards, Frenchmen are kinda like chicks, but that’s another story. The real story is that people in Paris have a propensity for movie-going, and while people in Paris also, sometimes, in some cases, at some junctures, have the propensity for being snobby, they’ll go see anything and everything (and all that’s in between) all the time with all their attention. (Well, mainly-mostly all their attention, except for the American films, which is the only time they feel permitted to break down and actually buy popcorn and actually eat it while actually watching the film. Maybe American films transmit secret subliminal popcorn messages.) Alone or on dates or in large crowds or in groups of two’s and three’s. Also pretty great.

Which is why one recent Friday morning recently at the UGC Orient Express, as the RER A or B or D screeched to a sliding halt on one side of the wall at regular intervals, that it was not surprising to see a handful of Frenchmen, all seated alone. For La robe du soir, (The Evening Gown), a chick-flick. A pretty good and un-cliché chick-flick about a pretty plucky and un-cliché chick, gamine, little girl who has a secret crush on her teacher. And who, through this crush, starts to discover her own femininity. A congregation of Frenchmen, congregated but seated alone, interested, intrigued, inquiring. . . interested in the ins and outs of the discovery of femininity? As in from a female point-of-view? Delivered by a female director? C’est normale.

Of course one could argue that said Frenchmen were there for another reason entirely. Chick-like they may be, open-minded and aesthetically interested, but maybe they were really congregating in the UGC Orient Express to see La robe du soir because they had seen the movie posters in the Métro. Maybe they, too, were hot for teacher.

Carolyn Heinze is a Canadian in Paris writing “France In Your Pants” monthly.

[Photo by Bart Bull; Production stills of LIO and Alba Gaia Bellugi in La robe du soir]

From the orange crate of David Lightbourne…

Camille Paglia observed almost twenty years ago the meaninglessness of narrative tropes like Liberal and Conservative.  Both terms tuckered out when their respective internal contradictions reached the size of their external conflicts.

America’s politics will always reflect the economic vicissitudes of the middle class in its bedevilment from above, below, left, right, from knaves and varlets of all institutional stripes -- and the media.

Only far from Manhattan do we witness actual subtleties and complexities coursing across the heartland.  Given pragmatism’s final exam, Nixon scored as our last great liberal public figure (apologies, Teddy), Clinton as crypto-Wall Streeter.

We use economic conservatism and social conservatism as distinctions to sort this out.  Likewise, classic liberalism and Freddie Mac liberalism simply share nothing.  If Bloomberg bores of his tin-pot satrap and runs for President, what will we call him?  He seems at war with the middle class from two directions, as Republican oligarch and as big brother Liberal.

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

From the hard-drive of Joe Carducci…

Catherine Hakim is a sociologist at the London School of Economics. Her piece on “Erotic Capital” in Prospect magazine is presumably a dumbed down intro to her paper published in the European Sociological Review. She translates for the layman, “Erotic capital goes beyond beauty to include sex appeal, charm and social skills, physical fitness and liveliness, sexual competence and skills in self-presentation, such as face-painting, hairstyles, clothing and all the other arts of self-adornment.” She notes that women are typically better at these than men and notes as an afterthought “child-bearing” as the “final element of erotic capital.” Christopher Caldwell in the FT seems to do a better job reducing Hakim’s study to a single column. He writes, “women have more erotic capital than men, partly because they work harder at acquiring it, and partly because men desire sex more intensely than women. Any deployment of erotic capital in the public sphere shifts power to women. A ‘patriarchal’ bias has therefore arisen that mocks and demeans it… ‘The underlying logic,’ Ms Hakim writes, ‘is that men should get what they want from women for free, especially sex.’” Caldwell in summary: “Sexual ‘liberation’ may not liberate people. It may just broaden the reach of sink-or-swim social structures. If there is erotic capital, then there is erotic capitalism.”

Of course there are social scenes where these may apply with greater or lesser intensity. It seems to me that when the paparazzi went video and online, these new media changed what film had once idealized as beauty on an almost philosophical level (think Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Robert Taylor) operating across a range of human desires, to one collapsed to just the optic/pornographic level. This level had existed on the periphery of film, which is why this new media seems juiced by the prospect that Britney or Lindsay may not outlive Marilyn Monroe, but its another animal entirely now. This level is more male but its theater does interest women as well, esp when Spears, unlike the other girls caught up in it, can manage to make it the subject of interesting pop songs. She can seem the new media stunt-girl, using what she got and has learned for the edification of her riveted but far more cautious female audience.

I thought the increased beauty of women in business, academia, and the arts to be an evolutionary result of greater female involvement in greater opportunities. That I figured explained why to my practiced eye professional sports cheerleaders have gotten less beautiful over the last thirty years. They are all shapely hard-bodies with practiced smiles but I would guess they are now coming from further down the food-chain as the more naturally attractive young girls go from perhaps high school and college cheerleading squads straight into office jobs in the business or media worlds with their degrees. It’s no surprise that the new movie version of the story of the seventies all-girl band, The Runaways, stars young women more beautiful than were the actual girls in the band. Manager-Producer Kim Fowley cast them for looks of course, but they had to be able to play their instruments too. When I showed the gatefold portrait of the band on their 1976 debut album to a friend born after that her surprise was that Cherie Currie, Joan Jett, Lita Ford, Jackie Fox, and Sandy West were not toned and tarted up in the modern industrial pop manner. The Seventies just look and sound more organic and human all the time, even in its manufactured pop.

I gather from talking to friends in NYC that they spend a lot of time at health clubs. I imagine a high-rise jungle of humans on hamster wheels desperately girding themselves for such erotic battle that we may now officially envy Willy Loman, Sammy Glick, and The Runaways.

But so much of this is now decoupled from actual fertility that when Hakim or Caldwell bring it up it clunks tunelessly against what we now take sex to be about. It, the Big It, makes a somewhat bolder appearance in “The Male Mystique” by Jena Pincott in the WSJ. She’s the author of a book called, Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes? which also reviews recent sex studies, but here she interprets the results of an experiment where women from a range of countries rated the attractiveness of male faces. The images of these faces were altered subtly to produce one with more masculine features and another more feminine features. Women in healthier, wealthier societies seem to prefer more feminine features in the male, whereas those in rougher climes prefer the coarser male face. In market terms, the safer female seems to leverage that safety to choose a male who will yield relationship space he would otherwise occupy as a physical defender of their home and family. As Pincott writes, “While a masculine father’s ‘good genes’ may confer health advantages to children, so do good medical attention and a clean environment.” However, it could be this is more a theater of perception as the genders look across at each other because in actuality a feminized male might be quite a handful as he tramps into and all over what otherwise remains female prerogatives.

As long ago as 1969 a book titled, The Feminized Male, by Patricia Sexton noted that he was actually often quite violent as he seeks to regain manhood. She writes unheeded and probably naively, “Quite simply, what we must do is masculinize the schools and feminize the power structure of the society -- balancing out the sexes so they don’t corrode any one spot where they concentrate. A new balance would also familiarize women with the real world and give them the courage they need to confront it in their roles as trainers of the young. They cannot teach their sons and students much about the world when they themselves live in total ignorance of it.”

Grace Kelly’s image is on the cover of the current Weekly Standard to illustrate Virginia Postrel’s essay, "The Deeper Meaning of Glamour". Inside Paris Hilton’s photo is opposite Kelly’s to tease her review of two books which seek to retrieve some fun or even utility beyond capitalist exploitation from the conventional Marxist moralizing. It’s no surprise that she finds the female author (Judith Brown) does better than the male (Stephen Gundle). Thinking Paris Hilton, Postrel writes, “Ours is a culture of full disclosure, which extols frankness, transparency, and self-revelation, all of which destroy the mystery required for glamour.” Except that whatever revelation is sprayed all over everyone by mass and micro-media, somehow truth is always withheld. That’s how much culture has built up around our biological life. The recent study that struck me as nimbly straddling our cultural and biological lives was reported last October. The Daily Mail titled their story, “Taking the pill for past 40 years ‘has put women off masculine men’”. In it David Derbyshire reports on a paper in the journal, Trends in Ecology and Evolution:

“Scientists have long known that a woman’s taste in men changes over her menstrual cycle. During the few days each month when women are fertile -- around the time of ovulation -- they tend to prefer masculine features and men who are more assertive. On these fertile days, women are also more attracted to men who are ‘genetically dissimilar’, Dr (Alexandra) Alvergne said. Picking a partner whose genetic make-up is unlike their own increases the chances of having a healthy child. On days when women are not fertile, their tastes swing towards more feminine, boyish faces and more caring personalities, researchers have shown. However, if women are taking the Pill they no longer have fertile days.”

Alvergne goes on to say that the Pill also suppresses scent and visual signals sent during ovulation that males receive as increased female attractiveness. Smell is in the eye of the beholder, I guess. More research is needed before we can all live happily ever after.

And a foot-up-the-arse-note:

Michael Wolff in his VF blog spots the image of the mouth and chin of NYT’s Arthur Sulzberger Jr. in the WSJ illustration of feminized males!


The preview by Ron Rosenbaum of Paul Berman’s next book, The Flight of the Intellectuals, in Slate was the best thing I read all week. I always enjoyed Rosenbaum when he wrote for the NY Observer and Paul Berman’s always worth reading for his left-revisionism (as in his Joschka Fischer TNR piece, and book) and his defense of the west (Terror and Liberalism). Next Berman attacks the west’s intellectuals for failing to come clearly to the defense of Ayaan Hirsi Ali as they once did for Salman Rushdie when threatened by radical Islam.

“Berman suggests that a combination of colonial guilt and colonial superiority is at work here, that Western intellectuals fear the direct criticism of other cultures, which Hirsi does in a more direct and literal way than Rushdie’s literary excursions. But I think another kind of fear is at work. What made the difference between the wholehearted response to Rushdie and the cold-hearted response to Hirsi Ali? Berman may disclaim it, but I think the subtext of his critique of Ali’s nitpickers is that, in the two decades since the Rushdie affair, standing up against Islamist death threats requires more physical courage than the intellectuals are willing to muster. They would rather allow pettifogging criticism to be a fig leaf, a way to distance themselves from danger… The most shocking and dramatic passages in Berman’s book are those in which he recounts, often casually, his encounters with the harried and hunted figures who have offended some radical mullah or other.”

9-11 did effect some in the elite the way it was intended -- what Bat Ye’or calls djimmitude and in truth what Islam demands, and is -- submission. And that the attacks seemed to save George W. Bush’s presidency and certainly Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure as Secretary of Defense, sent many on left around the bend -- some quickly, others gradually. One can imagine how much worse, how much more perverse these environs might have responded had Al Qaeda not attacked New York City, but only the Pentagon and White House. Would have made all the difference to the NY Review of Books, and at least some bit of difference to the NYT.

Berman’s book also features the ongoing controversy over Tariq Ramadan’s alleged double-game in Europe which Rosenbaum describes without endorsing as “shield(ing) the growth of anti-Enlightenment political Islam behind a façade of modernization.” I suspect so myself because it is common for third world intellects of provisional maturity to seek a kind of personal recompense in the guise of race-pride -- it is not that they are Arab, or Japanese, or Chinese but that they are intellectuals, whose childhood is steeped in a juvenile reading, that is, a vicarious re-experiencing of history as zero-sum national humiliation at the hands of the west. The Japanese matured and got with the program and taught the west a thing or two to boot, and I believe their example took the third world steam out of world communism and the non-aligned movement as well. The Chinese are doing great but could fall off the bicycle at any moment. The Arabs have a long way to go.

Mark Silinsky gives a short review of Caroline Fourest’s book, Brother Tariq: The Doublespeak of Tariq Ramadan, and writes “Fourest has waded through the complex record of his preaching -- particularly off-the-record and impromptu speeches to fellow Muslims -- and found a sometimes refined and sometimes puerile contempt for the West and an abiding faith in the supremacy and eventual triumph of Islam.” Ramadan seems to have particular fun in western Europe, taking full advantage of their high-minded acquiescence.

Stephen Schwartz reports bad news in American Thinker about the formerly thought of as Islamic modernizers in Turkey. The AKP seems to be breaking the ninety year old secular military overseer of the Turkish polity. The regime’s contribution to American edumucation includes “dozens of charter schools -- which receive government money but are not required to adopt a state-approved curriculum -- on U.S. soil. The inspirer of this conspiratorial effort is Fethullah Gülen, who directs a major Islamist movement in Turkey and the Turkish Diaspora but lives in the United States...” Sounds like something should be in the NYT before TNV.

Human Rights Watch is one of those high-minded do-gooder organizations that falter in the face of human rights violations on the scale which they occur in the Arab world. They find it easier to get up to high dudgeon when it comes to Israeli behavior, so this story in the Sunday Times about the Nazi memorabilia-mania of HRW’s curious military expert, Marc Garlasco, is ripe for extrapolation which it duly gets.

Also and always of interest The Dreyfus Affair’s latest books are rounded up in the weekend FT by Donald Morrison who has a book called The Death of French Culture coming in June. He writes:

“The 1870-1871 Franco-Prussian war had left France angry, humiliated and bent on revanche (revenge). The Army became the vessel of French hopes for regaining lost honour and territory, ie Alsace and Lorraine. A wave of nationalism swept the country, as well as an obsession with spies, traitors and anyone who seemed somehow un-French… the Jews very upward mobility irked the French upper classes, who came to associate that minority with such dreaded modern excrescences as the revolution, the republic, technology and capitalism, which had upended the old, church-dominated social order.”

Later absurd developments in France regarding Germans and Jews made of the Dreyfus Affair a key to 20th Century French history. It also helps explain certain French behavior towards her Muslim immigrants. I’ve wondered how Jews ever got so assimilated in European cities. It took generations, yet it didn’t take. And what bearing does it all have on Europe’s new immigrants. One steps back and has to say that Europe in the 20th Century traded its Jews for Muslims. Judging by their attitude to us over here they sure seem to act in full confidence they know what they’re doing.


I watched a lot of sports while I was in Chicago and noticed that the In-Your-Face style of micro-celebrations throughout the course of games seems to have migrated from the NBA to the NFL. Probably because the clock allows for it in the NFL. One thing generally true about final championship matches when everything is on the line is that the winners jump around like little boys, while the losers stare grimly at the spectacle, like men. Politics isn’t like that because winning and losing candidates and parties aren’t as absurd an identification as a sports team that is nominally your “home team”. And only very hollow people fully live politics and those often would rather lose to keep their vicarious hands clean and their ideas untested. Interestingly, they often hate sports and what sportsmanship they might teach.

The pretenses of the Obama election had settled down somewhat until this healthcare bill passed. And now the near-term myopia is an avalanche. Sam Tanenhaus even walked the plank in the form of a book, The Death of Conservatism, where he declared it “impossible” to make the case that this will be like other collapses which triggered reconstructions that led to comebacks. Tanenhaus, whose Whittaker Chambers biography won him a Pulitzer and the editorships of two NYT sections, is what passes for a double-dome in the collapsing mainstream media; following him come the demi-domes, many collected conveniently under his very red pencil. Frank Rich has it that “The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House -- topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman -- would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play.” That smells like the old Howell Raines regime’s golden oldie -- we’re all back on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Well it was predictable that “states rights” issues would make a comeback on merit once race relations improved to the point that a black man was elected president. I know that and I quit college during my second year. But for Rich the election of Barrack Obama triggers a new wave of racism. Must be hyperbole.

Paul Krugman has it that “extremists” have taken “full control of one of our two great parties,” and he refers to “eliminationist rhetoric” which sounds racist to the point of genocide, but he rather concludes it’s merely the party of “Reagan the anti-government fanatic” not the suddenly kind of harmless George W. Bush. Also in the NYT are the comic attempts of the unfortunately named Charles Blow. As the WSJ’s James Taranto writes Monday on these columnists, “If they were really worried about political violence and incendiary rhetoric, they'd modulate their own tone rather than ramping it up as they have.” Thomas Frank in the WSJ must be watching a lot of television because that’s his culprit, likening this Republican trouble to televangelism. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Watching television is not as easy as it looks. --Come on, people!

Do you think these leading opinion columnists and editors read their own newspapers? There are nothing but stories of municipalities, states, nations, and superstates breaking their budgets*. (see below) They were all fully leveraged on their revenue streams from what turned out to be bubbles inflated by others financial decadence and their own political meddling. And the new spending the Democrats signed onto under first Bush with the Republicans and now Obama without them is borrowed on a wish of “savings” and the prayer for new “revenue”.

In Tanenhaus’s own NYT Book section Wen Stephenson tellingly cuts the many recent manifestos down to jeremiad size, “If the manifesto looks fearlessly to the future, seeking to replace the established order with something altogether new, the jeremiad is at once jittery and nostalgic, looking anxiously over its shoulder at a prelapsarian past.” Sure enough Tony Judt right on cue delivers his “Manifesto for a new politics” to The Guardian and to say it looks back over its shoulder is an understatement what with all his compulsive 19th Century Russophile turns of phrase… Eventually he comes out with “The Left, to be blunt, has something to conserve.” Can I take that as an admission of culpability for the 20th Century? Some “new politics”. And just what does it mean when socialists use the royal “We”?

Anyway, my point here is that the left is not intoning faithfully what is occurring on the right in this country. They surely understand on their best days in moments of dumfounding clarity that there be differences and cross-currents in their enemies’ camp, but just take a listen to these eight minutes of Austin radio-host Alex Jones riffing on Tea Party, Ron Paul, Sarah Palin, neo-cons, libertarians, the Texas governor’s race, Bush and Obama and perhaps your takeaway will be similar to mine -- something new is occurring on the right that has little to do with the left’s prime-time hate-toys (Fox, Rush, Palin, et. al.). I’m not saying these people aren’t drunk on their tropes as well, it’s just that these aren’t the Christian/capitalist right of newsmen’s imaginations. Things have changed around people and at least one party is changing from below. Will the top accept this? Perhaps not. But the other great party is trying to relive the thirties.

The Libertarian Party has been a strange little debating society that is as house-broken as the Coffee-Partiers but as radical of idea as anyone this side of the Anarchists. As scientific advances take the sting out of abortion and drug issues its likely the Republican Party will adapt toward the Libertarians. This is probably what all the cacophony disguises.

But once again my fellow Americans foreign affairs/wars have clouded our politics and battered our constitutional Republic; only slavery (which predated it) did as much damage. I’ve thought over recent years that both parties have been picking ideas from Pat Buchanan’s failed presidential bids of the 90s. He was pushing a pullback from military commitments abroad, and a tending to working class concerns at home, which together suggested a roiling of both parties’ supposed concerns. I hated to see Pat driven from the party, and the neo-cons are paying a price for that now. The Republicans’ anti-communism had them overrule their isolationist temperament to fight overseas. The Democrats boundless intellectual idealism had them neglecting their own country’s working class. The Perot campaign was the confused, white male convulsion that media commentators take the current turmoil for. This is no longer that country, however.

What the establishment observers are writing tells me they aren’t describing this country but the one they trust this president will usher in. They approve of his newly pugnacious self firing shots across the Supreme Court at the State of the Union address. The Court will in all likelihood see a number of the healthcare provisions come before it; so emotionally satisfying perhaps, but not smart. Tall Barrack Obama seemed to be channeling small-man Rahm Emmanuel and signaling a pessimistic expectation.

Here’s Monday’s NYT lead editorial, “The Legal Assault on Health Reforms” chiding states’ court challenges as “Hail Mary” passes. The editorial assures the legislation has been “carefully drafted to withstand just this kind of challenge.” The NYT trusts it will not reach the Supreme Court, but I expect them to pull back on the Vatican-watch and commence tracing all six degrees of connections various hated Justices have to child abuse, back-alley abortions, church burnings, sundry racist incidents throughout the fifty states and overseas possessions. There’s hardly a single degree of separation to point the finger of blame at current Sec. of State Hillary Clinton for the coming barrage of litigation should the paper really wish to complain about that on principle. She was part of the Legal Services Corp. when they struck this mother-vein of solicitor’s gold. Here is the NYT, though, looking on the bright side of the gathering doom:

“Still, two provisions in the Constitution give Congress broad powers to regulate economic activity -- the power to impose taxes for the general welfare and the power to regulate interstate commerce. The new law has been framed to fall within both of those provisions. The penalties for not buying insurance have been structured as a tax, to be collected by the Internal Revenue Service. And the law’s text includes a series of Congressional findings: that health insurance and health care comprise a significant part of the economy, that most policies are sold and claims paid through interstate commerce, and that the mandate is essential to achieving the goals of creating effective health insurance markets and achieving near-universal coverage.”

It isn’t well remembered that back when Ross Perot almost overturned the election professionals’ applecart in 1992, he had two key voter populations to start with -- the military and veterans who were connected to him via his long-term hiring preferences at his company, EDS, plus divorced fathers then paying, or failing to pay, child support awarded in that strange period when the courts were at pains to treat all men as Thee Provider, and all women as still unequipped for the labor market. Those divorce laws changed quickly, if only to protect incumbents of both parties. But they also changed to recognize that the modern economy runs as much on female labor. These new healthcare penalties “structured as a tax”, however, are going to build another subclass of scofflaws looking around for that applecart. The NYT's second editorial Monday, touts a bipartisan effort to cut loose the Director of the Census so as to insulate politicians from the heat that will come as they guesstimate rather than count all hominids, citizens and other alike, which they must do to know who to tax and who to spend on. If the Administration follows this NYT advice then it will push said applecart right into a buzzsaw and the streets with run with apple-sauce.

*Newspaper notes of the week (caution: make sure all ammunition is stored separately from firearms before reading):

• John H. Sullivan, Pres Civil Justice Assoc of Cal., letter to WSJ.

WSJ: Public servants victory over the People: Vallejo today, Sacto tomorrow, then on to Washington.

“Can New York be Saved?”, right there in the NYT.

“Social Security To See Payout Exceed Pay-In” by Mary Williams Walsh in the NYT, again.

• And again by MWW the NYT allows that “State Debt Woes Grow Too Big to Camouflage”.

• Charles Krauthammer on our public servants’ dream of the VAT in the IBD.

• The IBD’s lead editorial on Tuesday, America’s New Nomenklatura.

• Jason L. Riley in the WSJ on healthcare’s impact on immigration reform.

The American Refusal by Godfrey Hodgson in Open Democracy.

Britons Cling to Services Despite Debt, in NYT.

Germany balks, or maybe respects other nations’ sovereignties in the FT.

• Edin Mujagic of Euro Currency Research in EUObserver, Are Spain and Italy next?

Gideon Rachman in the FT:

“Somewhere in the attic I have a home-made poster of 12 old European currencies that I assembled, in a fit of nostalgia, just before they were all made obsolete by the appearance of the euro at the stroke of midnight on December 31 2001. The old notes have portrayals of real people and places on them; the Greek drachma bears a picture of the ruins of Olympia, the French franc a portrait of Paul Cézanne. The euros that replaced them are decorated with buildings that look vaguely European but actually correspond to nowhere in particular.”


Norman Podhoretz on Sarah Palin in the WSJ:

“Unlike her enemies on the left, the conservative opponents of Mrs. Palin are a little puzzling. After all, except for its greater intensity, the response to her on the left is of a piece with the liberal hatred of Richard Nixon, Reagan, and George W. Bush. It was a hatred that had less to do with differences over policy than with the conviction that these men were usurpers who, by mobilizing all the most retrograde elements of American society, had stolen the country from its rightful (liberal) rulers. But to a much greater extent than Nixon, Reagan and George W. Bush, Sarah Palin is in her very being the embodiment of those retrograde forces and therefore potentially even more dangerous…. I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the same species of class bias that Mrs. Palin provokes in her enemies and her admirers is at work among the conservative intellectuals who are so embarrassed by her.”


"The Numbers Guy" in WSJ on how numbers and the scale thereof are tricky things and mostly misused in political debate.


Stalin’s favourite play, Bulgakov’s “The White Guard“, by Tom Streithorst in Prospect.

“I can understand why the theatre audiences of Moscow and Leningrad flocked to the play, which surely reminded them of the cultured lives they had lost, but why did the communist dictator?… I think Stalin liked the play because it reminded him of the world he aspired to in his youth. Yes, young Stalin was a revolutionary, a bank robber and a bandit, but the sophisticated life of the liberal intelligentsia was all around him. A young man from Georgia must have yearned to be a part of it, loved it when he was included in it, and I think that locked in the Kremlin, surrounded by brutish toadies, he missed the world of civilized conversation and deep friendship that he and his comrades destroyed. In some part of his black heart, he wished it wasn’t gone.”

Henryk Szadziewski on the passing of old Kashgar in Open Democracy. I don’t imagine the Chinese politburo, or the Chinese as a race will ever regret for a moment what they are destroying in Xinjiang-East Turkestan, given what-all they’ve destroyed of Han and Manchu China.


B.R. Myers, author of The Cleanest Race, in the WSJ on North Korea.

“What the North Koreans are only now realizing, however -- and this is more important -- is that their brethren in the ‘Yankee colony’ have no desire to live under Kim Jong Il. In 2007, after all, they elected the pro-American candidate to the South Korean presidency. Why, then, should the northerners go on sacrificing in order to liberate people who don't want to be liberated? Unable to answer this question, the regime in desperation has resorted to the most reckless propaganda campaign in its history. This ‘strong and prosperous country’ campaign is nothing less than an effort to persuade the masses that economic life will change drastically by 2012, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Great Leader Kim Il Sung, the father of Kim Jong Il. The official media have dubbed 2010 a ‘year of radical transformation’ that will ‘open the gate to a thriving nation without fail in 2012.’ On TV news shows, uniformed students smile into just-delivered computers, and housewives tearfully thank the Leader for new apartments. The media predict even greater triumphs "without fail" for next year. The Juche calendar -- which starts with Kim Il Sung's birth year of 1912, from one and not zero -- numbers 2011 as year 100, and thus hugely significant.”


Geoff Dyer in the FT on China’s local gov’s borrowing against Forest preserves.

“It is deals like this that are leading analysts to look more closely at local government finances in China. Some are beginning to warn that not only is China’s debt position much worse than advertised but that the banking system could also be heading for a large problem if many of these loans turn sour. ‘This will eventually require a massive bail-out from the budget and the foreign exchange reserves,’ says Victor Shih at Northwestern University in the US.”


Rainer Hermann of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Oman’s celebration.

“Oman is at the edge of the Arab world, borders on the Indian Ocean, and is heavily influenced by the culture of the Indian subcontinent and East Africa… As a result of their seafaring, Oman’s Muslims have created a tolerant society that is unique in the Arab world. Indian traders of the Hindu faith settled in the Omani capitol, Muscat, and became Omani citizens. In Muscat, a Hindu temple and 28 Christian churches are open to the faithful from Kerala in southern India and the West.”


Radio Mogadishu in the NYT.


Andy Schwartz on the RnRHoF induction. Funnier than being there, I’m sure, plus the Stooges induction.


Ivan Kral’s 8mm Stooges films from 1973.


Jeff Beck talks to the FT, where he does not repeat the regret expressed to Guitar World ten years ago that he didn’t rename his band The Rod Stewart Group so as to keep Rod’s voice as his and prevent the recording of so many Rod Stewart solo albums.


Blame the Architect, a much needed participatory blog on still-standing offenses to the eye from outside, and to existence itself from inside.


Russ Smith, formerly Mugger-founder of the NYPress on the WSJ and the NYT.


In the newspaper, NYT, this was the Science Times section front which is an affront to science from all sides. At the site, nytimes.com, the pixels read Health, which is at least a simple backstab.


Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post on the late Gerald Boyd, and Jayson Blair and Howell Raines, all formerly of the NYT.

“It is hard not to feel for Boyd as he recounts how he came to hate his job and distanced himself from what he called Raines’s ‘bare-knuckled management style’ and ‘management by torture…. I knew he could be wrong and a bully.’”


NYPress’ filmcritic Armond White’s “Do Movie Critics Matter?” in First Things


Mike Watt finally has his first photo exhibit. He’s been kayaking the harbor area at San Pedro to get exercise between tours for awhile now, but don’t go with him if he invites you because he’ll leave you in the… kelp. He only stops to take pictures of the sunrise and the various critters hardy enough to survive life in L.A.’s big flush bowl perimeter.

Mike Watt: Eye Gifts from Pedro

Photography exhibit, opens this Thurs., April 1.
Bergamot Station 2525 Michigan Av., Bldg. C1, Santa Monica, Ca. 310.264.4678
Check the top for Watt’s lens-work or the link where there’s a few more good ones.


(thanks, Tim Broun, Steve Beeho, Mark Carducci)

To receive a weekly update notice for the NV, send an email to newvulgate[at]sbcglobal.net with SUBSCRIBE in the subject line. To stop receiving notices, do the same with the word UNSUBSCRIBE.

• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
• Copyright retained by the writer, artist, or photographer

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Issue #38 (March 24, 2010)

Glendale and Los Angeles

Photo by Chris Collins

Dark Buddha - Charles Bronson
by Joe Carducci

Charles Buchinsky was following his brothers and father down the coalmine when WWII drafted him out from under the company town of Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania. After the war he drifted and found pickup work to avoid getting locked down into the life of his family, and to protect and pursue his interest in painting. A job painting sets for a theater led to acting and marriage to actress Harriet Tendler. By 1949 he’d done bit parts on New York stages, and they moved to L.A. where he trained at the Pasadena Playhouse, which led to his first bit part in a Gary Cooper film, You’re in the Navy Now (1951).

Buchinsky (often Buchinski), with his stocky thirties action-style body and toughguy face, was first just another uglyman character actor -- not as mean as Neville Brand, not as nice as Ernest Borgnine. American film audiences after the war were no longer obsessed with pretty boy leads, but it was older actors who took advantage of this new appetite for realism -- Robert Taylor, James Stewart, Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda -- many of whom in fact had been those slim, unmarked romantic leads of twenty years earlier. Others who got the interesting B film leads were actors like Aldo Ray, Rod Steiger, Broderick Crawford; Buchinsky coveted these roles. He changed his name to Bronson in 1954 to sound less Russian during the Hollywood red scare -- his parents were both Lithuanian.

He was in the Hollywood system though not as a contract player with a studio. Still, he was soon getting third or fourth billed roles in westerns such as Apache (1954), Drum Beat (1954), Jubal (1956), and Run of the Arrow (1957). But he was ambitious and remained frustrated. He got his first lead roles in three great 1958 B-films; Showdown at Boot Hill and Gang War were directed by Gene Fowler Jr., and he told Ronald Davis that Regal Pictures head Robert Lippert asked in exasperation at his lead choice, “Who the hell wants to see that ugly son-of-a-bitch?” (SMU Oral History Project) These were followed by Machine Gun Kelly for Roger Corman.

Bronson also did dozens of television one-off roles from 1953 to 1967, and starred in a cheapjack series, "Man with a Camera" (1958-60). A-films in the sixties for Bronson meant playing in the action ensembles of Never So Few (1959), The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1963), and The Dirty Dozen (1967). It was progress, a career, but he needed more. He was driven by having been the eleventh of fifteen children of an immigrant who was dead of black lung disease by the time Charles was twelve. Several of his siblings died young. Once out of Ehrenfeld he’d been taken for an immigrant himself and he worked hard to leave his accent and naiveté behind. (Bronson used this accent for the character Velinski in The Great Escape.)

He bounced from agent to agent, divorced his wife, fell in love with his best friend’s wife and found himself ready for lightning to strike. Bronson turned down a script from Italy called “The Magnificent Stranger.” Richard Harrison, an American actor who had found work and fame in Europe, was busy and told Sergio Leone about Clint Eastwood. The idea was to have an American star in a German-financed Italian-directed western based on a Japanese film (Yojimbo) inspired by a Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott western (Buchanan Rides Alone); it would be shot in Spain. Eastwood was younger, and had less to lose; he was looking forward to the end of the TV series "Rawhide" wherein he’d played a character he’s referred to as ‘trail flunky.’ Eastwood simply threw out his character’s and most of the others’ dialogue and as luck had it Leone had an eye for the rest; the film was released here as A Fistful of Dollars (1964). Bronson then rejected For a Few Dollars More (1965) and that part went to Lee Van Cleef, a marginal heavy in lots of westerns through the fifties. Van Cleef became an overseas star too; he looked great but never threw out enough of his dialogue. Bronson would have done The Good, the Bad and the Ugly because by then he’d seen Fistful, but he was committed to The Dirty Dozen (1967).

Meanwhile, Bronson was getting his own international action. He had married the English actress Jill Ireland after she’d divorced actor David McCallum. McCallum, who was quite a pop star due to his role in "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.", had turned his agent Paul Kohner onto Bronson, and Ireland pushed him to France to do Adieu L’Ami (a.k.a., Farewell Friend, or Honor Among Thieves, 1968), and Rider on the Rain (1970). These arty messes were huge hits throughout Europe and Asia but are most interesting for being the first to really frame and linger on Bronson’s potential for violence in its cool, calm potential phase. Following such stillness with his natural aptitude with guns and fists became his formula. Bronson made ten films in five years for European production companies. And Leone finally got Bronson for Once Upon a Time in the West (1969) where he played opposite Henry Fonda.

After five years dominating the overseas box office, Bronson returned to Hollywood, though by now the studios were mere distributors of the productions of smaller, hipper companies – companies who knew the value of Charles Bronson. Dino De Laurentiis Productions signed him for three pictures at a million dollars each. The third of these was Death Wish, a film that became the zeitgeist’s skyrocket in the summer of 1974. And so, as the sixties youth culture crested and curdled in 1974, a deeply scarred fifty-two year old immigrant’s son found himself the number one box office attraction in America, and the world.

Producer-Director Michael Winner who worked with Bronson in this period said, “He had a chance when he could have broken through, and I know the pictures he didn’t do and it’s a pity.” But when the personal and professional pressures finally let up on Bronson, film had become to him merely a professional means to personal ends. He always knew his lines and hit his marks on the set. More often in Hollywood, actors were contemptuous of their craft and so drank or whored or subverted characterizations as written with a kind of performance striptease often hinting at closeted homosexuality. Bronson respected the work, but from hereon he considered himself a family man first, a painter second, and only then an actor. Bronson, the Dark Buddha, had reached his personal-professional Dharma and it earned him the following or Sangha that further freed him.

He loved Jill Ireland; they were a Beauty and the Beast couple. She loved children as he did; more so perhaps for enduring repeated miscarriages to have them. His and her children from both previous marriages as well as their daughter were often together in the rural Vermont Bronson household and after Death Wish’s success Bronson and Ireland made films together. He gladly forced her on producers, and snubbed Hollywood by working primarily with Brit directors (Michael Winner, J. Lee Thompson, Peter Hunt). The best of these films are Chato’s Land (1971), Stone Killer (1973), Death Wish (1974), Death Hunt (1981), and maybe even Murphy’s Law (1986).

Three fortunate exceptions to this Brit preference are among the best films of Bronson in his prime: Mr. Majestyk (1974) directed by Hollywood veteran Richard Fleischer from a script by Elmore Leonard, Breakout (1975) directed by Tom Gries, and Hard Times (1975), Walter Hill’s directorial debut. Telefon (1977), though directed by Don Siegel and written by Stirling Silliphant, is less than it ought to be (see Siegel’s funny chapter on the film in his autobiography).

Late Bronson deteriorates but remains interesting. The Death Wish series (five in all; the last direct-to-video), 10 to Midnight (1983), The Evil That Men Do (1984), and Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989) are lurid collisions of an aging puritan-avenger Bronson with some of the sleaziest settings any box office champ ever got near. Here the sexual neuroses and Fleet Street cynicism of the Brits and Bronson’s professional detachment yielded strikingly perverse films. Bronson’s Beauty was dying of cancer through these years and when she succumbed in 1990 his career changed as well. He did one last great support role (fifth billed and without hairpiece) in Sean Penn’s The Indian Runner (1991) and then moved to network television where he did some good wholesome work that was likely closer to his true taste: Yes Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus (1991), The Sea Wolf (1993), Donato and Daughter (1993), and the three Family of Cops films (1995, 1997, 1999).

Today, Bronson’s catalog has drifted off of the shelves of videostores with the phasing out of videotape, and interest hasn’t yet demanded restocking in the DVD format. A failed career then, one might say, but surely a successful life -- a complete kalpa. In Hollywood the reverse is more often true, though it’s generally work from failed careers that endures. A Buchinsky autobiography is to be published.


The most frustrating element is to try to protect the performance you know you gave, to get it up on the screen. This is the most difficult thing when you are a supporting actor, because the leading credits get all of the consideration. . . . You’ve got to work, you’ve got to live. I’m in a supporting category right now. The only solution is to get the hell out of this category, and prove that you can draw the box office as well as anybody else.

(to Curtis Lee Hanson, Cinema, Vol. 3, No. 1, December 1965)

Brando’s walking around dressed like a bum and telling how tough life is. How does he know? It was never tough for him. And it wasn’t tough for most of those ‘angry’ guys. What have any of them got to be ‘angry’ about?

(from Bronson!, W.A. Harbinson, Pinnacle Books, New York)

I listen to the first question. If it’s something like ‘What is your philosophy of acting?’ I get mad and say, ‘I don’t know anything about the bleeping philosophy of acting. I just learn my lines and get up there and do it. If you want to know about the bleeping philosophy of acting, go ask the bleeping director.’ Next time I meet that guy, I’m going to kick him in the stomach.


(This essay of mine is reworked from a forthcoming book, Stone Male - Requiem for a Style; a version was published after the death of Bronson in Arthur magazine No. 7 in 2003, still available here; my “Life Against Dementia”, published in Arthur No. 1, is also still available and well worth the price; it is the title essay in my forthcoming collection.)

[Charles Bronson portrait by Jim Blanchard]

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

From the steel desk of Joe Carducci…

Obituaries of the Week

Fess Parker

The 1950s was a good decade to be a film actor what with post-war America’s greater tolerance for realism, but with the studio system beginning to crack up it was also a frustrating time for even those who would be the new stars of the next decades (McQueen, Bronson, Eastwood…). It could be worse still if you were a contract player for the quaint sub-major studio, Disney, and you got the lead in what was unexpectedly the first massive television-phono-radio-retail phenomenon.

Fess Parker sat for a lengthy career interview in July 2000; in part 2 he discusses the early work in television, but the entire thing is very interesting. He had a small part in the film Them! (1954) and when Disney screened the film to consider James Arness for the lead in “Davy Crockett” (1954-55) it was that scene by Parker that got him the role. Woe would be upon him. In Sunday’s NYT, Bob Greene compared the impact of Parker’s Crockett to Elvis a year later. Disney shot three one-hour episodes that took Crockett to his death at the Alamo before the first episode aired on Dec. 15, 1954, and to such acclaim of every little boy and many girls of the baby boom that they brought him back from the dead for two fanciful river adventures. Worse than the coon-skin hat kidstuff was Walt Disney himself turning down John Ford’s offer of Jeffrey Hunter’s part in The Searchers (1956). Parker said Ford never forgave him. That was how Disney looked out for their family friendly phenom. Of his work there, only Old Yeller (1957) is a good film and makes something significant out of Parker’s natural rural Texas presence, though he’s gone for most of the adventure. His personal quality is there in his TV stuff too, but that’s often all there is. Elsewhere in the Emmy interview he answers that he considered writer-director Burt Kennedy a mentor for describing in words what Parker’s acting effect should be -- the two of them were part of a group that met for breakfast over the trades through their early formative years.

Once free of Disney he made his only great film, Hell Is for Heroes (1962). It had a cast of TV stars, essentially, including Steve McQueen, Fess Parker, Bobby Darin, Nick Adams, Harry Guardino, James Coburn, Mike Kellin, and Bob Newhart, but it also had a tough-minded script by producer Robert Pirosh and a director, Don Siegel, who could see that through. Siegel describes being under pressure on the budget, very small for what he got on film, and Darin blowing the first take of the big, expensive pyrotechnic action climax. He writes of take two, “Bobby fell down again, but Fess Parker grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and rushed him out of sight. Nobody got hurt and the action looked sensational.” (A Siegel Film) The Emmy interview does not mention this film in part because its focused on television, but Parker does name Siegel’s The Shootist (1976) as his favorite John Wayne film so it’s a shame it isn’t covered. Parker became a producing partner for his subsequent acting work. He played “Daniel Boone” (1964-70) which was another success, and then focused on real estate and his winery. He did one nice mature star-turn in a made-for-television movie, Climb an Angry Mountain (1972). But his career overall demonstrates foremost the strange incompetence of Hollywood even when it recognizes correctly a natural.

[Images: Parker in Hell Is for Heroes, Parker in Them!]

Charlie Gillett

Gillett wrote the first good book about rock and roll, The Sound of the City - The Rise of Rock and Roll, and because he was a Brit and the book was published there first in 1970 he really shamed music writers and publishers here then. Perhaps the distance led him to listen more closely to the music itself. He begs off the racial implications of “the rise of rock and roll” in his introduction as being unknowable and beyond the scope of his book in any case. He did get to see Buddy Holly early enough, but writing the book in the late sixties he should probably be forgiven for concluding:

Absorbing this music without necessarily thinking much about it, the generations of popular music audiences since 1956 have formed quite different sensibilities from the preceding generations which were raised on sentiment and melodrama. Members of these preceding generations were in charge of most of the record companies, and tried hard to reinstate the music they preferred. Now, more than ten years later, these men are giving way in the record companies to younger people who were raised on rock ‘n’ roll and whose influence, in all likelihood, is responsible for the rapid acceptance of radically new styles by companies that once adamantly resisted the novelty of rock ‘n’ roll.

After all, Hendrix was still alive and on the radio then. But we soon found that the new hip regimes of company heads had somehow recuperated the worst pre-rock “sentiment and melodrama” within the new emptied out form of “rock ‘n’ roll”. The American problem was perhaps that much of this false music was actually no worse than mediocre if only because here the musical race-mixing was hundreds of years on. From England the division would have been absolutely planetary. However, the book is titled wrong because rock and roll was not the sound of the city. Like most important music it was rural music. The best of it often migrated to cities, but usually for business purposes. And in my day it was surely the sound of the suburbs at that.


Armond White in the NYPress blowing his cool all over the place, excellently. Heat and Light. About the new movie, Greenberg. All this might have been avoided if only Joel Silver hadn’t produced a mumble-core movie. It’s being advertised as heart-warming; White thinks the heat is coming from the compost heap of corruption.


Eli Sanders in The Stranger on NewTimes/Village Voice Media’s Michael Lacey vs. San Francisco Bay Guardian’s Bruce Brugmann.

Brugmann has denounced the ‘leering neoconism’ that he sees at the heart of Lacey's politics, which he derides as ‘frat-boy libertarian.’ Lacey has called Brugmann a "bull-goose loony" and likened talking to him to engaging ‘a homeless paranoid in conversation about the contents of his shopping cart.’ (That was from a more-than-4,000-word screed—Lacey's word—that he published in 2005.) Brugmann has printed bumper stickers that say ‘Corporate Weeklies Still Suck,’ and to this day hands them out to visitors. Lacey has noted that Brugmann, for all his independent talk, once had among the investors in his paper Donald Werby, a billionaire real-estate mogul who bankrolled the Church of Satan (‘No, really,’ Lacey wrote) and was indicted for paying off underage prostitutes with cocaine before dying in 2002. (‘I missed the Bay Guardian's coverage of their investor's indictment on child prostitution charges,’ Lacey added.) This January, when the SF Weekly accused Brugmann of ‘celling out’ his anticorporate principles by preparing to rent space on the roof of his paper's building to some T-Mobile cellular towers, Brugmann retorted that the story's reporter was simply ‘a Mike Lacey protégé.’ The feud goes on and on, leading even Lacey's and Brugmann's respective underlings to detest each other.


Bob the Zimmerman; Ron Rosenbaum on Seth Rogovoy’s book, Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet, in the Jewish Review of Books.

He was the chosen one for the secular Jewish folkies who saw him as able to bring the messianic, if not Marxist, social gospel to the gentiles in his protest songs. While some kvetched about his name change, realistically ‘Zimmerman’ wouldn’t have served the Woody Guthrie persona he crafted. And the Woody Guthrie act worked. It worked so well that this middle-class Jewish boy from Hibbing, Minnesota, passed as a kind of Okie hobo. Of course, talent played a part: Dylan’s ‘Song to Woody,’ really the first sign he was capable of conjuring up transcendent beauty, decisively signaled his difference from all of the other Greenwich Village faux Okies. That is, until he got tired of that act and caught fire with electric rock and roll, leading to cries of betrayal and ‘Judas!’ That famous cry of ‘Judas!’ was heard as Dylan launched into an electric guitar set in his 1966 Royal Albert Hall concert (now available as Live 1966 and arguably the best of the live Dylan albums). And when you think about it, it was an accusation that he was being Judas to his own Jesus.

-- Except that there was time before that Woody Guthrie act, though after his Hibbing childhood, and those were years Bob spent trying to figure out how to be a rock and roller if you weren’t southern at least, black if possible. In this regard I would respectfully suggest that Dylan is first not a folkie but one of the early northern rockers and might best be bracketed with Jack Scott, Johnny & the Hurricanes, Paul Revere, Dick Dale, or any of those greaseballs -- there were a million of them. And they selflessly proved one needn’t be black or at least southern to rock out, though while they did this cultural heavy lifting, Dylan was selling out to New York folkie sentiment so as to get onto Columbia Records. Years later, he was getting back to his righteous self when he went electric, though Dylan never risked losing his solo artist prerogatives to any band he put together thereafter whether that hurt his discographical rock and roll rep or not -- surely not, by the lights of Rosenbaum’s so-called “Bobolators“. But by my expertise in this area not many Dylan recordings are as good as, say, Jack Scott’s work.


All points on the NYT political compass seem unable to comprehend the decades-long provocation project that would cause the lesser folks of the country -- religious localists of many types -- to choose their own ignorance to their betters’ wisdom. They really assume the right to dictate the parameters of a just life. And as slavery was what left the door open to the anti-federalist centralizing project of the left and elites generally, any resistance is rewritten as revanchist racism for convenience of argument, something I’d file as suspected proof the elite is not fully meritocratic. These, the quality inbred of the Ivy League may not know that most extended families out across the country have crossed the race lines in the past few decades because people move around a lot and you know, they all live together in one big jumble out there.

•Sam Tanenhaus - “Identity Politics Leans Right”

•David Brooks - “The Broken Society”

•Lawrence Downes - signed editorial “Two Rallies”

•Bob Herbert’s column “An Absence of Class”


At least J. Wes Ulm in Democracy, attacks something foundationally relevant in “Cachet of the Cutthroat”, and that is are non-churchgoing liberals really Darwin-deniers?


James Bowman - Avatar and the Flight from Reality”

Avatar’s combination of the anti-mimetic and the politically progressive could be seen as being indebted to contemporary aesthetic criticism like that of Michael Taussig in Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses (1993), a book that identifies the Western mimetic tradition with colonialism and the construct of ‘savages’ that supposedly made possible Western oppression of indigenous peoples. Similarly, Kelly Dennis’s Art/Porn: A History of Seeing and Touching (2009) exposes ‘the seductions of illusionism,’ by which she appears to mean traditional notions of representational art. ‘Illusionism’ as an oppressor’s doctrine and self-justification for his oppression thus becomes the aesthetic or art-historical equivalent of ‘capitalism,’ ‘imperialism,’ ‘sexism,’ and so on — a name given by utopians to the world as they find it in order to suggest, precisely, its unreality, its own merely contingent and conventional nature — just like that of the various manufactured utopias they propose to put in its place.


Artforum seems worth buying about once a year. In late '08 I bought it for Luc Sante’s Manny Farber appreciation on his death. The current March issue is another one to buy, mostly for James Quandt’s piece on filmmaker-critic Eric Rohmer who died in January. That piece isn’t available online but you can read John Kelsey’s review of The Runaways, and Greil Marcus on Malcolm McLaren’s Paris fixation, which I do intend to get to someday, both are posted online. Here’s a bit from the Rohmer piece:

'The color picture is ugly, I agree,’ Rohmer wrote in an early essay, a comment as ironic as this most loquacious of directors’ persistent yearning for the silent era… For few directors equaled Rohmer’s expressive use of color, with Mondrian-style primaries deployed to hint at complexities of character.


Nigel Andrews on Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) in the FT has it as post-Hiroshima in its revolutionary breakthrough that showed up critics as it found its audience and changed film. Well yes but it's also so radically conservative as to be Catholic. Hitchcock (like Rohmer) was also simply drawing from a tradition most of their contemporaries and successors struggle mightily and ridiculously to do without, as if they, geniuses that they supposed themselves to be, might simply conjure up a metaphysics as rich and deep. Horror films are usually best left Catholic in their perspective, spoken or un-spoken. Only Andy Warhol’s Dracula (1974) seemed to successfully reconfigure the premise itself. Hitchcock, Rohmer, any director contrives jeopardy for his characters. The art of film historically was built by placing young women and children in jeopardy for the vicarious concern of the audience; better make them orphans as well and tie them to the railroad track to make sure we get the message. Much sexual jeopardy in films has been a more playful tease that begins precisely with the “occasion of sin” the Church obsesses over. Movies are vicarious occasions of sin which was why the Catholic press’s ratings for films were always so harsh. What Warhol and his writer-director Paul Morrissey did in their Drac film was have the Count specifically require the blood of virgin females. Handyman Joe Dallesandro thus dutifully runs around defending all the fair damsels of the village by deflowering them just before Udo Kier shows up and sinks his teeth into their necks; his eyes then bug out and he is retching up more soiled blood before he knows it. Dracula post-sexual revolution! Dracula, motor for the sexual revolution! I’ve mentioned it before but E. Michael Jones’ book, Monsters From The Id - The Rise of Horror in Fiction and Film, is the best thing I’ve read about things gothic. But back to Alfred, what gave Psycho the power it had and has was his turning all of the formula of Hollywood history into foreplay for not another occasion-of-sin sex tease, but murder -- abrupt and insane as if landing from some other movie, but in Hitchcock’s one true narrative a perfect realization of all the thousands of the Legion of Decency’s “condemned” ratings for what Hollywood offered as light romantic farce. Jones uses James for his frontispiece:

Everyone who is tempted is attracted and seduced by his own wrong desire. Then the desire conceives and gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown it too has a child, and the child is death.

And the Jones I quoted in Enter Naomi is from his chapter, “Hollywood and Death”:

To recapitulate the past forty years of film history, which was in its way a recapitulation of the past two hundred and fifty years of the Enlightenment: they wanted sex but got horror instead.


Stephanie Simon in WSJ sketches out Denver’s culture war within “the pothead community” (my epithet). It helps to recall that the boring drone of NORML-types is fully bourgeois in the greater Denver area, which includes important high-rent cultural sub-centers like Boulder and various mountain towns (Nederland, Aspen, Telluride…). But Denver is also a very lively center of fully committed post-punk neo-redneck PBR-America where every tattooed meth-cook crashes through his trailer-trash theme-park nightlife, stripper-girlfriend in hand. Both groups seek to groundfloor the new Gold-rush, which in any case the Democrats both these groups vote for are soon to move marijuana behind the pharmacist counter at Walgreens and Rite-Aid. In either case, just say no.


Matt Coker interviews Nick Schou of the OC Weekly for the OCW about his book, Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love and Its Quest to Spread Peace, Love, and Acid to the World.

NS: Basically, we ran a story in 1999 or 2000, ‘Laguna on Acid’ by Bob Emmers, about a big Christmas concert, and deep in the article it mentioned this little-known group of surfers dropped acid onto the show from a plane. That led to the idea to track those people down for a feature story. But no one from the Brotherhood talked to me until I was writing the book. This solves one of the last remaining mysteries of the 1960s: Who were they, and what were they trying to do?


Edwin Heathcoate in the FT on Peter Saville, ex of Factory Records now branding municipal Manchester itself.


Tony Judt is dying slowly; the memoirs he is dictating are more interesting than his political essays have been. This one on the fifties/sixties sexual revo, “Girls! Girls! Girls!” is at the New York Review of Books blog.

Within a matter of months, a generation of young women abandoned a century of lingerie and adopted the miniskirt with (or without) tights. Few men of my acquaintance born later than 1952 have even heard of -- much less encountered -- most of the undergarments listed above… In theory we prided ourselves on being the cutting edge. But in practice we were a conformist cohort: shaped more by our ‘50s youth than our ‘60s adolescence. A surprising number of us married young… Championing the inalienable right of everyone to do anything, we had scant occasion to do much ourselves. Our predecessors had grown up in the claustrophobic world of Lord Jim and Look Back in Anger… they did not expect to live out their fantasies. We, by contrast, had trouble distinguishing our fantasies from everyday life… Our successors -- liberated from old-style constraints -- have imposed new restrictions upon themselves.


Eamonn Butler in the FT, “We should not be saved from our stupidity”. I can think of two reasons: 1. Darwin’s natural selection, 2. The maintenance of Freedom.


Barney Jopson in the FT has an excellent piece, “The road to independence” which describes the coming vote to release black Christian south Sudan from the Arab-run Muslim north. Sudan refers to the blacks so perhaps the slavers of the north will leave the name to the south. But does the fact that the blacks in the south are Christian count against them in the UN? Does brown trump black when it is Muslim vs. Christian? And wither Darfur? According to Scott Baldauf’s report in the CSM, it's feared the money the Organization of Islamic Conference just pledged to Darfur will reward the Arab nomads that were deputized for the driving out of non-Arab civilians when they couldn’t engage the rebel groups who’d flee to Chad. Here’s hoping the international do-gooders are capable of imagining what is taking place as Khartoum faces the loss of oil revenue from the south and the halting of their jihad, and the end of slave labor.


Daniel Martin Varisco’s book Reading Orientalism: Said and the Unsaid is taken apart by A.J. Caschetta in the Middle East Quarterly.


Novelist Andrew Roberts on Miranda Carter’s book, George, Nicholas and Wilhelm in the WSJ.

Miranda Carter's ‘George, Nicholas and Wilhelm,’ about the interaction between three imperial cousins of 1914—Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, Czar Nicholas II of Russia and King George V of Britain—is entertaining and well-researched, with acute pen portraits of the major players. But it all too often falls for the ‘if only’ myth, whereby peace could have been kept if only wiser men had been in charge of their countries instead of these intellectually limited royal relatives. There are elephantine holes in the theory, not least the playing down of France's central role in the geopolitics of the day, presumably because, as a republic, France doesn't fit the competitive cousins storyline. Any book with the names of three emperors in its title is bound to place the monarchs on center-stage more than their actual involvement merits. George V of Britain, who emerges as a completely second-rate human being in Ms. Carter's telling but who was in fact one of the finest and most dutiful monarchs of the 20th century (or any other), wielded very little political power in foreign affairs… Even in the authoritarian German monarchy, Kaiser Wilhelm II's actions were narrowly circumscribed by his own parliament and by the military; he could not have launched the war on his own. In absolutist Russia, Nicholas II had the power but not the will to take center-stage. A key figure who doesn't get enough attention in this book is Franz Josef, the long-serving emperor of Austria-Hungary… One suspects that Ms. Carter skimps on her discussion of Franz Josef because he was only distantly related to the book's ‘cousinhood.’


Margaret Coker in the WSJ's “Iranian Details Crackdown” nails down for the first time that I’m aware of the election theft everyone sort of assumed had taken place in Iran until this diplomat based in Oslo defected.


(thanks to Mike Watt)

To receive a weekly update notice for the NV, send an email to newvulgate[at]sbcglobal.net with SUBSCRIBE in the subject line. To stop receiving notices, do the same with the word UNSUBSCRIBE.

• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
• Copyright retained by the writer, artist, or photographer