/ Semiotics /
We live in a mythological soup, movies stir the stew powerfully. Last night Jan and I watched Anatomy of a Murder, Jimmy Stewart defends Ben Gazzara from George C. Scott, while Lee Remick poses. Stewart wants $3,000 for taking the case, Gazzara agrees but in fact never even pays the $150 promised down payment. Ah ha, Hollywood in 1959 treated us to another illusion of lawyers preserving and advancing civilization like knights errant: others labor for wages; paladins are sustained by God, by destiny, by the natural nature of things. Jimmy Stewart’s unintended charity is the more bizarre because we see that he’s been going fishing, tying flies, stacking the fridge with trout, while his secretary, Eve Arden, hasn’t been paid in months and needs a new typewriter.
This Otto Preminger effort was released in 1959, the following year a truly great movie put a vivid image of heroes working for God, not man, when in Yojimbo, Kurosawa has Mifune pretend to be interested only in money whereas in fact he gives any money he gets to poor people as soon as he can, showing a moue of distaste for the moment he has to even touch money. (He doesn’t hand his beneficiaries the gold, the poor whored wife, the helpless nebbish husband: he throws the minted metal in the dirt! where they eagerly pick it up!)
No Fees, Pro Bono
Notice: the Bible collects the best of Jesus as a sermon on the mount, Jesus is shown feeding the people; the people are not shown feeding Jesus. Jesus is a true aristocrat, he owns the territory, rents are paid to him by the nature of things, not by taxes enforced by goons. The Bible of course used to be what movies now are, our what-do-we-want-to-believe-about-ourselves stew chef.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that no one works for free, that there’s no such thing as true pro bono — I do, always have (and no one yet has written a Bible about it that anyone has yet seen or paid attention to) (except to deny).
The concepts of thugs armed and mounted, supporting the coercive tax-collecting kleptocracy and mythologizing it as godly, saintly, self-denying … Christian, white Christian, flowered in the court of Marie de France a millennium ago. My
background scribble for my Shakespeare thesis covered some of that ground.
Preminger’s 1959 audience had already had a couple of years to be TV-steeped in a paladin.
image of Knight Errantry lost: could have been Pallladin.
I was going to offer a little history of chivalry: courtly love, knights errant … but I suddenly have a memory which I’ll give precedence to: back in the early 1960s, running the Free Learning Exchange from my new apartment on Riverside Drive and 103rd Street, I read Rollo May say something preposterous about courtly love. In the NYR, same place I’d first read Illich, he perpetuated ignorant claptrap about the system of self-hypnosis by which coercive kleptocrats pretend that they’re white, Christian … the good guys. Funny thing was, May lived directly across the street from me: didn’t know it, wouldn’t have heard of me till I wrote him. Rollo May wrote back, addressing Doctor Knatz no less, confessing that he was parroting what he’d heard from Elizabeth Hardwick: some well-known liberal writer, female.
Well, I jut started to search the web for specific dates and titles — on chivalry, the court of Marie de France, The Art of Courtly Love, Andreas Capilanus … and by golly, maybe I’ll get it back, get it all this way, but not easily. Universities, encylopedias … are run by the same people who used to unconsciously (as well as deliberately) alter the Bible to serve their agenda. We pay money to liars we call experts, while jailing the saints we call terrorists.
Andreas Capellanus, The Art of Courtly Love
Marie of France, Countess of Champagne
In a word here, the part you’re likely to hear only from me: By the Twelfth Century, feudalism was well entrenched: a military class owned and controlled the land. Ostensibly Christian, they were actually not Christian but human: that is to say Church-sanctioned monogamy was often honored in the breech. The fucked-out lords spiced up their adulteries by pretending that their loves were chaste: Platonic (but heterosexual Platonic). They developed a complex set of behaviors for cross-class love: Lancelot isn’t supposed to consummate his love for Gwenevere not so much because she was married but because she was married to King Arthur: Gwenevere was Lancelot’s queen! So he had to refrain. Ordinary lust he could satisfy in the ordinary way: see a buxom peasant girl, rape her: perfectly simple.
The rulers invented a complex hypocrisy for themselves, then pretended to abide by it: like Americans pretending to be peaceful, well-meaning …
Role vs. Job
One of Marshall McLuhan’s great perceptions back around 1967 emphasized the change in human culture between medieval and modern through the concepts of role and job: the peasant’s role was agricultural, the king’s was political: neither of them had a job, they both had roles: and ditto the queen and Mrs. Peasant. Being a mother is a natural not a salaried position. No one pays me to be a truth teller, except with blows and sabotages; but that’s what I am: a messenger of Life. No one hired me, and I can’t be fired. Killed, tortured, jailed; but not fired.
Plenty more may get scribbled here about all of the above, plenty of it may be edited, improved (or diluted, polluted): but I now ride a related rail:
Anatomy of a Murder is a courtroom drama. Courtroom conventions were even more familiar in 1959 than they are in 2014. Familiar conventions may bypass recognition, they register without being seen. pk’s role is to see and comment on the invisible. I’ve been in enough courtrooms to know that however artificial the drama conventions are, courtrooms really are some of the things depicted: fallible, arrogant, pushy … It’s possible that something established as a fact will be true but don’t count on it. It’s possible that the judge is interested in justice, but don’t hold your breath. Clarence Darrow was known for getting crooks off: yes, he also landed a blow or two for science, for reason, for Darwin …
Audiences are stroked to teeter their hopes for Ben Gazzara: get him off! lock him up! bastard, wife beater!
Me, I want to see the lawyers drawn and quartered. Every time George C. Scott plays a dirty trick in court I was to see him disbarred, tarred and feathered, pilloried. Yes, and Jimmy Stewart too. Lee Remick hooted and jeered every time she shows her tits in profile.
Hollywood has also dished out mythologies of other estates acting the role of knight errant: roaming the country side, judging right from wrong, slaying giants, rescuing maidens. Society is routinely assigned a series of heroes: cops, firemen … get added to lawyers, doctors. It’s in my life time (and the life times of my parents) that the idea of doctors working pro bono has become nearly totally ludicrous. It wasn’t that long ago that doctors did not have the state jet your income into their account, never mind wither or not they killed you. Certainly doctors always “earned” more than the milkmaid, than the hay stacker, but they didn’t always collect what was owed them, often bargain: gave credit, accepted trade goods: you attend my wife delivery, I’ll give you a basket of eggs, and pray for you.
Notice all along: the doctor was entitled to more than the milkmaid because the doctor could confuse issues in Latin: he paid the university, now you’ve got to pay him; whereas the milkmaid has been milking since age twelve, she never took any courses in Latain, she speaks plain English to the cows.
Never fail to notice the correlation between income and a record of service to some kleptocratic institution: once the priest studied while you ploughed, sowed, harvested: In no time the priests own everthing, and you’re still ploughing, owing a few eggs to the doctor. Now everyone works for money, works at timed work, having paid dues to a school: but you have to pay the doctor, the lawyer (with their Latin, or some other school-processed mumbo jumbo) far more than they have to pay you.
What’s hysterical in all this is that the doctors, the experts, got their degrees from universities that cut Abelard’s balls off, ganged up on Galileo: it’s the frauds that graduate and get to mumblejumble; the geniuses got culled. The rabbis whom God didn’t talk to crucified Jesus, whom God did talk to.
Lee Remick Poses
The night before we’d watched The Postman Always Rings Twice, Lana Turner plays Eve to the hilt. She’s so bad a woman you don’t notice what a piece of trash John Garfield plays.
Closed Case / Open Universe
Jimmy Stewart’s judge keeps saying that the trial should wrap up in another hour: like he’s got a heavy date, or like he punches a time clock: like he has a job, with a union, not a role, like a king (or like a god). You can ask the union, “When are you going to walk off the job?” But you can’t ask the chemist, “When are you going to cure cancer? could you please win the Novel Prize while my London bookie has you at 500-1 against?” What if there’s new evidence? a new witness? an overlooked interpretation? Science can’t be scheduled; fraud can be though: and kleptocracy is all fraud.
2014 07 Oh gee, editing, rereading breaks my heart: I said that Jan and I watched such and such “last night”: yes, and the day I scribbled this she prepared to go to her Nova Scotia homes: did fly north at dawn the 25th. Aijaijai. At least she’s phoned a couple of times already, bless her. No more movies together till mid-October. Ah, and then we can as well resume reading together. George Eliot is due up: and more Tom Wolfe.