Till age five I probably knew an average number of movies for a white American. Maybe I knew a few more: my father was a lawyer: and even though he drank too much to be very successful, he knew rich people: people who drank every bit as much as he did but who didn’t stand on their own foot all the time, or, who hadn’t married my mother: who took exception to not being the only “Mrs. Knatz.” One friend of father’s had a movie projector and screen, and a bunch of Chaplin reels. Not every rich person in the early 1940s had their own home movie theater.
After five, absent my father, I saw far fewer movies than average. Every friend I had saw every John Wayne movie, but not me. I had no allowance. From age 8 or so onward I made money, lots of money, but the first habit I developed was to spend it on jazz, not Hollywood. The great bulk of it I just threw into a drawer. Before my mother insisted I move it to a bank I was practiced in the lust of the miser for minted metal. Thereafter, banked, I never did develop the love of printed zeros that plagues my fellow man. We’d rather have a long string of zeros on a piece of paper than have forests, or oceans … or rain water that is actually pure.
It wasn’t till I was an upperclassman at Columbia that I began to invest in movies the way I invested in Miles Davis, and Dave Brubeck, and Horace Silver. It started with a reprint of Chaplin’s Modern Times: and became a conflagration when I realized that Fellini, the man who’d made my beloved La Strada, was a human, a professional, a film maker, and that he’d make more movies than just La Strada. I saw Nights of Cabiria and couldn’t breathe. That was soon after I’d seen The Seven Samurai, and understood it to be the same team that had done Roshomon! Then I saw I Vitelloni … And from then on, my money was earmarked, and not just for jazz.
The trouble was, I no longer made any money. As a kid I earned $1 but spent only one dime. As a young man Columbia swallowed every penny I made, and taught me to live in debt: like my parents: to live on promises: to invest in fraud: like everyone else. School is a racket where the second rate take everything from the potentially first rate, with Ponzi scheme promises. There is no game except the Ponzi scheme, unless it’s Christianity: a hope for a Christ who isn’t a Ponzi schemer. So: human society, which steers resources away from the unusual and toward the compliantly gullible, becomes ever more what it already is, human society, a fraudulent Ponzi scheme. Anyway, money or no money, living on diminishing credit, my credit as a PhD candidate, a potentially subsidized poverty case, a teacher, living on the edge of starvation but kept from actually starving by the same society that crucified Jesus, then heaped gold on the dead Peter, I absorbed what movies I could.
Moving to Maine, to teach at Colby College, didn’t help. The film society there had never even heard of the bulk of the greatest film classics. Faculty and student body were allied in their resistance to art they hadn’t already be rehearsed to like. You couldn’t even show these people a Bergman film! A fellow English professor heard me say Kurosawa in a context of the greatest movie makers, and insisted to my face that I had said curaçao: that I’d been talking about liquor while they were discussing movies! When the earth puts morons in charge, we won’t last long. Maybe we’ll have a happy ending yet.
There: my target is happy endings: Hollywood, pk, Homo sapiens, and Lars von Trier: and specifically his movie Dancer in the Dark. Von Trier released this movie in 2000. I was busy inventing Macroinformation . Cannes gave it a prize or two. Roger Ebert reports that the morning session, the screening when All the pros are present, was evenly divided between boos and cheers. He straddled the fence, undecided whether to boo or cheer. Macroinformation continued to keep me impoverished, continuing the path I set upon when I agreed to transfer all my wealth to a university, which would then illegally fire me, blackball me, keep me unemployable, encourage others to cheat me … The unemplyed are famous for not having a lot of movie money; but how about the life-time-unemployable? especially the life-time-unemployable, who, following Ivan Illich, following Christ, invented the internet? offering social networking and digital data basing to form a free market place that could, if a public so willed it, replace coercive government, fraudulent institutions, non-sustainable stage craft …
So: I never heard of Lars von Trier until last week, when some remark of his about sympathizing with Hitler got him sent to the corner at Cannes. As I guy who’s been unpublished, beaten up, arrested, censored … for remarks I’ve made (or tried to make), I had to learn more. So I searched among his titles, realized I’d heard of Dancer in the Dark, if not von Trier himself, and ordered it. Ah, and I’d get a bonus: I’ve been dimly aware that there is a singer in the world named Bjork, but I have no idea who she is, what she sounds like, why she’s well received. Some art I’m way ahead of the curve in writing. Some art I’m way ahead of the curve in living. Society can’t have any idea who’s first with anything when society crucifies the first half dozen innovators, then heaps their royalties onto some Nth generation derivative with only a portion of the genius of the original half dozen. Anyway, I order this DVD, and prepare to watch it with my beloved Jan.
Bjork turns out to play a simple minded woman going blind. She works dangerous machinery overtime to save up for an operation she hopes will save the sight of her son. She never should have had him, knowing her disease is hereditary. But before we learn that we see this woman of severely limited abilities cast as Maria in an amateur staging-by-the-factory-hands of the Sound of Music. Bjork is pretty good at being pretty bad. She’s very good at making pretty-bad sort of endearing.
Her landlord is a cop with a wife who spends and spends: far more than his cop income, far more than their landlord income. Bjork’s character’s offer, as Selma, of more rent, is rejected both by cop and spendabilly wife.
OK, in a word, cop sees blind girl’s savings, knows she’s just lost her job to her blindness, endangering not just herself but the factory, needs her money for her son’s operation, believes he’ll pay her back in a month, and steals her money. His own savings box from the bank is empty, now he’s got her $2,000-odd. She confronts him, demands it back. He holds her at pistol point. Makes sure she feels the gun barrel in her ribs, in her face. In a struggle the guy who takes a bullet is the cop. Now he begs Selma to finish him off. He wanted to commit suicide but was too weak.
Always cooperative, Selma empties the gun at him, missing him with most of the shots — she can’t shoot any better than she can operate dangerous machinery, then she smashes him in the face with his empty deposit box from the bank. Finally he dies. (He dies that is until his corpse gets up to dance a number with Selma!) Finally spend a-wife comes back, calls the cops — who of course know less that she does: and
most stupidly of all
assume they are innocent!
and have a right to go around arresting and cuffing people, locking them up.
Now: she’s tried. In the amateur theatrical everyone loves Selma and is indulgent to her clumsiness, her awkward dancing, her childish singing; but in the court everything she’s ever said turns to poison in the mouth of the state’s lawyer. Boy, is the state manly in its sabotage of a helpless feeb. But it’s her own fault, you see. Not only is the truth of the circumstances of the cop’s death not very flattering to anyone except perhaps Selma herself, but Selma won’t tell the truth! She believes that her son must not worry for the operation she’s saved for to be effective. The movie never gives a second opinion to compare this feeb’s opinion too. Regardless, she, Selma, believes it. She’d rather be hanged and have her son see than live and risk him not seeing.
Now of course the judge knows nothing of this, her neighbors know next to nothing of this. The court room is the place of kleptocratic lies, not humble half-witted self-sacrificing truth.
Jan and I watched this movie not knowing what to make of it. She bailed out after an hour. We watched the rest of it though last night. And on and on it went. How much screening time was left had been a mystery from the beginning. After an hour, Jan going to sleep, the rental data said there was still an hour and fifteen or so minutes to go. Most movies you can write the plot yourself just by glancing at the elapsed time clock. Here we watch Selma go to jail. We watch Selma refuse to have her case reopened. We watch the state stand staunch in not getting any detail right. We watch the kleptocracy forge forward, utterly blind to its frauds, misdealing the cards while mouthing platitudes about truth and fair play. And at the end, the final actual end, we watch Selma fall through the floor and hang like a sack of potatoes, dead by the state’s hand: as spend-a-wife looks righteous in the witness chamber!!
Marshall McLuhan answered forever the question of why the news seems all bad: it isn’t: the important new is all good. The headline has to say 10,000 die in volcano eruption to provide contrast for the good news. The real news is the good news, it must always stand out. What’s the good news? Why,
General Motors has a new model!
Sachs is selling mink!
GE has a refrigerator you can buy on time!
Don’t fall for the magicians’ misdirections: watch the real information.
Dancer in the Dark is an amazing film. And, though it’s ending isn’t conventional Hollywood happy ending, it isn’t a Hollywood move, or a conventional movie; it has a happy ending: Selma gets out of her blindness:
And the kleptocracy learns nothing! Spend-a-wife has killed her husband, and killed her neighbor, the state holding her spend-a-hand. And she, and the state, have learned nothing.
And at church, on Sunday, they’ll still have learned nothing.
Uh, pk, uh, what’s happy about that?
The universe won’t have to put up with us much longer. Whatever God will tolerate, the biosphere can’t tolerate fraud burning all ends at once for much longer. No matter what lies we tell, there really won’t be as much rain forest!
The more I think about it the more I love that movie. Here’s what i emailed my son before starting the above:
|I’m still absorbing this Dancer in the Dark. Roger says that at the Cannes screening in 2000, all pros present, there was a Yeah / Boo off at the end. He wasn’t sure where he sat, and abstained both yeas and boos.
It’s hard to know what to make of this film, right up to the end. Taking several days to see it, now having slept on it, I think I love it.
Anyway, it reminds me of Thief and our discussions of same back when: Caan concocts a scheme to make his wife, whom he loves deeply, stop loving him, so she won’t be so hurt when he disappoints and abandons her.
Here a halfwit blind girl concocts a scheme to be executed for murder so her son won’t worry about her and maybe his operation will save his eyesight.
I also fell in love with lesser casting choices: Shibhon Fallon.
Bjork. I heard the name, didn’t know why. Finally I encountered a DVD of Spike Jonez films. One was of Bjork. I didn’t know what to make of it: Jonez LIKES this?!?
Alan Watts talks about the guys hanging around the gas station being deep deep deep play actors of Shiva, Vishnu … Kali …
Von T (and Bjork) are maybe deep, or maybe just nuts.