Guthrie and Bergman

Woody GuthrieOn this day back in 1743, the great Russian poet Gavrila Romanovich Derzhavin was born. But what do I know? I don’t read Russian. The inventor of the theory of the Aryan master race, Arthur de Gobineau was born in 1816. Who would have thought that a Frenchman would give the Nazis their philosophical start? I hate to bring it up on Bastille Day. On the other hand, I think it is important for modern day conservatives to remember: Gobineau is what it is to be a conservative.

Special message to conservatives: This is what history will think of you. I know you all don’t see it now. But your belief in “equality of opportunity,” which even if it weren’t a myth, will eventually be seen for what it is: a form of intellectual aristocracy. You won’t say it, but you really do believe the race would be better if these “inferior” people just died out. And guess what? Over time, we’re going to need as much genetic diversity as possible. Because what is really valuable (or at least highly prized) now is very specific to this time and place. It will not always be so. But I don’t think that is what you should be thinking about. You should be thinking about what bigots you will ultimately be seen to be.

The writer Owen Wister was born in 1860. He pretty much invented the modern western. What is most interesting about his work is that it shows that even at the beginning the western was fundamentally about protecting the property of the rich. It wasn’t then and pretty much isn’t now about the rugged individualist, except in as much as that rugged individual can help protect the profits of the rich. The painter Gustav Klimt was born in 1862. He was a really interesting artist, but I just don’t find him that compelling.

The great Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman was born in 1918. It was very hard to not give him the day. I don’t think he is unerring in his brilliance. But his films are always interesting and often great. It may be a cliche, but The Seventh Seal is one of the truly great films. And I am especially fond of Scenes from a Marriage. But sometimes, he’s really a bit too much as in Cries and Whispers. Since you really can’t appreciate Bergman in a short snippet, here is a parody of him that is delicious fun:

Okay! Here is probably the most famous scene from the beginning of The Seventh Seal. There are no subtitles. For those who haven’t seen it (And why is that?) Death has come for the knight. But the knight convinces him to delay his death until they finish a chess game. When choosing colors, Death picks black and then notes, “Appropriate, don’t you you think?”

Actor Harry Dean Stanton is 87 today. He’s interesting because he’s looked old for such a long time, he doesn’t look too bad now. Blockbuster film producer Joel Silver is 61. Comedian Jane Lynch is 53. And David Mitchell is 39. Here he is with Robert Webb lampooning the unequal crime fighting duo as we saw recently in Marvel’s the Avengers:

The day, however, belongs to the great folk singer and songwriter Woody Guthrie who was born on this day in 1912. Here he is doing “Hard Travelin'” which sounds very much like it could be on the first Bob Dylan album.

Happy birthday Woody Guthrie!

0 thoughts on “Guthrie and Bergman

  1. Very good "special message."

    I’ve been reading a lot of books about horrific slum communities worldwide, lately. Lord only knows why. It’s not like I enjoy the nightmares they give me. But sometimes you read book "A" and the endnotes/bibliography reference book "B" and away you go.

    During each description of impoverished urban horror, I hear a little voice in the back of my mind. (Sometimes it has a face attached, maybe that of my Bain brother, or Thomas Freidman, or Milton Freidman in "Deep Space Nine" Ferengi makeup — you gotta admit, he LOOKED like a Ferengi.) And that voice (and that face, which invariably has a George Will bow tie attached) is cheerfully saying:

    "Certainly, this kind of suffering is an unpleasant side effect of progress. But better that the market punish the unworthy than undue government interference deny us the genius of the visionaries, the people whose brilliance made the wonderful world you and I enjoy today."

    Besides the inherent ridiculousness of this logic (government interference, unions, and high wages for workers didn’t stop innovators from creating better washing machines and TVs in the 50s/60s), there’s a Stalinist "a million deaths are a statistic" sickness implied in it.

    So, among the billions of people who are born, live and die in unspeakable conditions (partially caused and absolutely exacerbated by right-wing economic dogma), there’s not one who’s at least as bright as Steve Jobs? Or you, my borther, or the Freidmans? Whose gifts aren’t utterly wasted by this system? Worse, whose gifts are perverted into screwing others over in order to survive?

    Well, perhaps, they’d acknowledge, this is a sad thing. (Although I doubt they’d even go so far as that admission.) What about the absolute do-do birds, the people dumber than the marriage of a bag of hammers and box of rocks? Should they suffer, too? Apparently not — because quite a few of them are among the wealthy, and several are CEOs. (Hire a garbage-picker at random from one of the world’s slums, put him/her in charge of one of our stupider corporations, and tell me how their decisions could be worse.)

    The right wing vacillates between moralistic and utilitarian justifications for the only thing it really stands for: some people have power, and I will serve them in hope of reward. When the utilitarian arguments fold under questioning, they switch to the moralistic ones, and vice versa. The discussion points used by medieval Men Of Physick ruminating on Humors had more basis in reality.

    Ultimately, as you note, conservatism/neoliberalism/the right wing (whatever) are merely justifications for the human propensity towards absolute cruelty. Which probably has its place (if another ape is coming to eat your kid apes, you’d better fight him off.) If there’s such a thing as civilization 500 years from now (big if), people then will wonder how we accepted such stupidity as within the bounds of rational discourse. It makes me feel for the people in the past who despised slavery, or the Jonathan Swifts who proposed soving the Irish famine by eating Irish babies. No, people in the future: we didn’t all believe that crap!

  2. Rant sidenotes. I watched "Firefly," hugely enjoyed it. I kept waiting for the obligatory Joss Whedon "kill off a character because I can" moment, and it didn’t come. Then I made the mistake of watching the movie version, "Serenity." Oh, there we are. Whedon’s a witty guy, but also kinda a dick who enjoys treating audiences like his personal hand puppets. Also, he has kind of a creepy old-man pervy thing for young women. Me and the SO keep slogging through the BBC "Doctor Who," and while it is stupid as hell, it has a very normal and healthy attitude towards sexuality. Someone’s young and attractive, it’s natural for them to have sexual feelings about other young, attractive people, and it’s normal for us older folk in the audience to think "yep, I wish I was that good-looking, it would be fun." Whedon makes his young women all attractive in a skeevy way. I’m sorry he didn’t get laid as a teen, but neither did I. I suppose it’s better than him being a Catholic priest.

    I finished "Breaking Bad," the fifth season, and I didn’t find it all that terrible. Yeah, Walt becoming an international drug lord is a bit of a stretch, but the show was never very realistic. (I’m from Portland; meth may be a new scourge for some of the country, but we had houses blow up way back when.) It has had great moments, like the kid on the bike who turns out to be a killer, but for the most part the appeal is seeing Bryan Cranston play variations on milquetoast-turned-stone thug. And season 5 was just more of that. (I’m so tired of the "whoops! His DEA genius drug-busting in-law just missed the connection! Maybe next time, Hank" theme that I’m looking forward to that ending.)

    The bit I actually disliked in season 5 was Skyler. She once was happy to take Walt’s drug money, and used his immoral behavior as an excuse for an affair. Now she’s bent out of shape by it, yet at season’s end she’s cool with the stack of cash. Do any women write for these nihilistic cable series? I know there must be some, but the female characters seem really shallow to me.

    And it was a bad decision to get rid of Mike. His was always a goofy conception, anyhoo; the killer with a heart of, well, not gold, but stainless steel, maybe.

    I’m kinda curious about the new streaming series on Netflix, "Orange Is The New Black." It’s about prison, and the "creator" (appalling term) did "Weeds." Some people like guacamole, some people don’t (you very bright people might keep in mind, from time to time, that the pop-culture preferences of others say exactly as much about them as their taste for guacamole — you tend to get a wee bit judgmental about that stuff), but I had a good time with "Weeds." It was silly, and none of the episodes stick in my head, but I enjoyed it whenever I got a new season from the library. Maybe because the creator of Weeds was female, Mary Stuart Masterson was very sexy in a non-exploitative way; she was a person with erotic feelings, not an erotic object.

    And maybe Joss Whedon is just a spooky creep . . .

  3. @JMF – You are right about it having a certain Stalin kind of thinking. It isn’t limited to economics either. This is the new apology for the death penalty. Once people could argue that the system was perfect. Now they can’t. So those people wrongly killed are just unfortunate casualties in the war against murder. It’s really great logic.

    In Whedon’s defense, the death of Wash did set up the third act where you really didn’t know if he was just going to kill everyone off. And it did set up a great last line for Zoe. As for Book, well, I think he could have been given a better death. But the one line was great, "Coming from you, that means… almost nothing."

    The problem with [i]Breaking Bad[/i] season 5 is that while I don’t mind Walt being the antihero of the first 4 seasons, I do mind him being the villain in the 5th. The one thing the show was always good at was showing a lot of character variation without destroying the core of the character. Jesse’s character arc was especially compelling. But in the 5th season they broke Walt’s character. It isn’t the same man.

    I think the writers have always had a problem with the female characters. At the very beginning, Skyler’s character worked. But it didn’t work for long. And what happened to her kleptomaniac sister? We haven’t heard a peep about that since early in the first season. And Hank’s just annoying as hell. As you note: he’s too smart all the time except when he isn’t. Typical writing the character to the plot rather than the other way around. Yeah, it was a mistake to get rid of Mike. But as I’ve said, it was a mistake to get rid of Gus if the series was going to continue.

    Don’t call me bright! Of course I’m opinionated! It is what I do. I saw a couple of episodes of Weeds–enough to know that it was Mary-Louise Parker and not Mary Stuart Masterson. But I understand how difficult that distinction can be: those lesbian scenes can be confusing! It was all right. The main thing is that I’m not that into drug films. But it seemed fun enough. I’ve heard from some people who I respect that [i]Orange Is the New Black[/i] is rather good.

    What is this about guacamole? There are better and worse ways to make it, but I won’t put you down if you like one of the lesser ways. Just the same, I usually admit that whatever piece of crap I’m ranting about works for the lesser mortals. Geez!

  4. Well, you’re crazy bright, son. Hate to break it to ya. The whole I’m a novelist/blogger/nonfiction author/musician thing is a bit of a giveaway. Not that you brag. But it’s on here for those of us who poke around older posts, so we know the cruel, dark secret.

    Getting a bit dismissive of others because of their tastes is an occupational hazard of being bright. I’ve done it, and I’m only mostly bright, not crazy bright. Pauline Kael did it. Chomsky has! (And those are two people I admire enormously.) Not saying you do often, but a few things I’ve recommended have been met with apparent shock (bitter anti-war stuff, if I remember.) Ya didn’t like ’em. I must be a scary person? Nah, I’m someone who likes to type, and this is currently one of the three or four places I get to type.

    The "Pennies From Heaven" guy (Dennis Potter? I’m too tired to look it up) once said that he used old sentimental songs because those songs didn’t necessarily sound to the people who loved them like treacly crap. The songs suggested a moment they remembered or an emotion they felt. Pop culture hits different people in different ways, and I try to remind myself of this all the time when co-workers I respect talk about or suggest I check out things I don’t enjoy.

    The practice has made me a better critic, I think. Rather than just dismiss someone who likes a James Cameron or David Fincher movie (two filmmakers I am not fond of, putting it mildly), if they really want to further the discussion I’m forced to try and understand what it is they see that is harmless, and then counter that by acknowledging their reaction while adding my own perspective about what I see that is harmful.

    Pretty much what you usually do. But don’t be mean if I like stupid things! And I like typing! And I’m a lesser mortal (well, MAYBE mortal, haven’t died yet . . .)

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