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I remember watching a foreign movie as a young man. The movie showed Viking warriors landing on rocky beaches, launching from rocky beaches, killing people (and each other) on rocky beaches, and carrying swag to their ship in the form of an occasional bronze vase.
There were no women, no children, no towns, no farms: no crops, no economy: just raiding, killing, stealing.
What else did the script edit out of any possible economy: Viking or otherwise? There were no women, so there was no rape: neither was there any homo hanky panky. None shown: and that’s all a movie audience can see in a movie: what’s shown.
(Except for great moview where great art conspires to show what is invisible: as with Kurosawa’s swinging swing at the end of Ikiru!)
I decided then and there, early 1960s, that my question was legitimate (the more legitimate the worse the movie): how do these people make a living?
Or are we having pure myth imposed upon us: gods laying around Olympus, being served meed: that the server pours, but that no one gathers the honey to brew?
That movie I saw around 1960 was supposed to take place in Viking times, in Viking lands: Scandanavia, Iceland. I suspect though that the movie was Italian. Italian movie makers like things bleak, minimal, violent … ugly. I saw many an Italian costume film, many on TV, where off-brand networks picked up Italian film crap for a song: no-budget, rock-beach, utterly un-verisimilar movies. Last night Jan and I watched part of a Sergio Leone movie that I’m astounded I didn’t recognize any part of: Once Upon a Time in the West.
Leone’s spaghetti westerns were around for a long time before I ever subjected myself to one of them deliberately. I’d been a huge Akira Kurosawa fan when A Fist Full of Dollars came out. I hated Clint Eastwood for years because he was getting credit for things properly associated with Kurosawa / Mifune.
We enslave the n-s, then “free” them, then lynch them: give their women a penny to raise our children and clean our house while we make sure the males can’t walk down the street unmolested. Then we steal their music! and pretend that we invented it! Al Jolson! Elvis!
(Of course what we actually inherit is a hybrid that “we” did have something to do with the creation of: but of course it’s still largely theft, few of the royalties paid: proper credit impossible to determine.) (Actually we did participate in inventing it: but; the musicians who got along easily with others were not permitted to get along well in the society at large. Lionel Hampton was not let into the hotel, Benny Goodman was let into the hotel, but was given dirty looks: just knew that the waiter was spitting in his cup.)
[Bowdlerizing K., 2016 08 06, euphemizing the most popularly offensive words, so ironic for the freedom guy]
Anyway, look at Once Upon a Time in the West: or at any other Leone movie: long shot of empty desert, empty plains, empty Utah, Nevada … close-too-close-up of matinee idol costumed as “ugly” — Clint, or Henry Fonda, Lee Van Clef, Charles Bronson … (Leone even gets Claudia Cardinale to look half-ugly!) Once Upon establishes the West as as barren as the rocky beaches in that earlier Italian dreck-opera. Nothing, no one, could live there (except a muscle, a crab … a lizard, a snake …) Then, suddenly, in close-close-close up, there’s a bad ugly guy, bristling with guns, wearing a duster that reaches his ankles. Then there’s another one, and another. By golly, one of them is Woody Strode! Once Upon shows a toothless old man tending a RR depot. One by one, several big bad ugly guys with guns in dusters, block each of the station’s entance/egresses. How do these people make a living? What do they eat? What do they drink? beside whiskey? Can one really live in a desert on nothing but guns and whiskey? with no women, no children, no farms, no hunting, no fishing?
2011 04 10 Now that Jan and I have seen the whole 2 3/4 hours of it I see that how they make a living was very much part of what Leone had in mind: economics, connecting east and west by rail. The emptiness suddenly bristling with easterners, all from Europe before they were from New York, is very much in the movie’s consciousness. I add that the film was shot in a studio: the desert, the sky, the RR: all painted staging. And however silly, I like the movie: a lot. (And I’m astonished that Jan put up with the whole of it! I’d asked her to get the flavor, the style, for at least five minutes before bailing out: I’m introducing movie history to her, you see.) (After a year and a half of my feeding films to her, several a week, we’re definitely into some secondary material: Kurosawa, Fellini, Bergman … Eisenstein, Griffith, Chaplin … came first; now Repo Man and Once Upon a Time in the West can slip in.)
Instantly I was reminded of Jurrasic Park where the velocoraptors hunt in packs. The bad ugly guys are a pack of raptors. One predator confronts the pray from the side of their primary defense: faces them. the killing blows will come from team members to the rear, to the side … Leone’s heavies chase the toothless station tender, then spread out to surround the arriving train. They’ve got any disembarkers surrounded. But they see no one disembark. Before the train pulls away, these moron raptors clump together to compare notes: where’s our victim? he’s not playing by our stupid rules! Then, too late, they see Charles Bronson, alone, on the far side of the train, disembarked, with this carpet bag.
The redcoats clumped together; the colonials spread out (as did the “Indians”). Bang, bang, a lot of red coats fall down. Here all the guys fall down, but Charles Bronson gets back up again. But the raptors had defeated themselves: by clumping, where one man could quick-shoot them all!
The movie shows us a wreck of a farm farmed by a wreck of a family: surly male moron dad, a victim daughter, and two victim sons. Why the three of them have let dad abuse them un-killed for so long is not explained. So, first, there’s nothing: then there’s dad, then there’s ‘iddle bitty son, and daughter, and farm house, and other son. It’s like the Brunns Road in Sebring I live on. It looks rural, till you see the hundreds of trailer parks hidden just out of sight, just off the road. You think you’re home on the range, actually you might as well be in the Bronx.
Suddenly, birds start up from the sage, there’s a gun shot. Daughter is lying on the ground: then sonny, then pa, finally, Henry Fonda and a bunch of big bad ugly guns step out of the sage, and shoor the ‘itta biddy kid too.
Where did they come from? Did they too get off the train? How did they escape our notice?
What do they eat? drink? Papa’s farm here didn’t look like it had a single chicken. Papa was complaining to daughter about how thickly she’s sliced the bread, for a wedding, pa’s wedding, to Claudia Cardinale!
First there was nobody, sterile desert. Then there was pa, then a family of four, then four corpses, then Henry Fonda and a bunch of big bad ugly guys, as big bad and ugly as the three idiots Charles Bronson shot like fish in a barrel.
Now suddenly there’s a funeral. The population for a small town attends. Where did they come from? Was there a shuttle service from downtown Las Vegas? They did a grave? One grave for four corpses? They lower the big coffin, into the grave. They throw in the rope afterward: gonna bury everything.
No wonder they’re poor. But how did they get born and grow up in the first place? They must have food stamps, government supervision, they probably have to attend school till they’re forty: when they’re allowed to be big bad and ugly on their own.
This is not a sustainable society. Or: what sustains it is out of sight: an audience, in a multiplex, or in a million million living rooms, watching the boob tube. dreaming of gods. drinking mead. on a rock beach.
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