Daily Archives: 10 Jan 2015

Blood Work Still Pretty Clunky

Blood WorkIn my continued mining of older films that I think are likely suspect, I watched Clint Eastwood’s 2002 thriller Blood Work. What I remembered was that it was a fairly enjoyable film with a really stupid third act. Now I would have to say that I was probably over-selling the film. It is entertaining enough, but it is more like a Movie of the Week than a theatrical film. And it made me realize that this is largely true of Eastwood’s whole career as a director. It is only his great reputation as an actor that has allowed him to direct what are mostly fairly careless films.

The one thing that Eastwood is know for as a director is that he shoots fast. He doesn’t shoot a lot of takes and things move along quickly. As a result, it is amazing that Blood Work cost $50 million to make. Other than the actor salaries, I can’t imagine that more than a million dollars are up there on the screen. Maybe most of that money was just Eastwood’s salary. Because by and large, the cast is made up of television actors. And given the way that Eastwood shoots, that’s probably for the best. He needs people that can give an acceptable performance in two takes. And that’s largely what he gets.

The one clear exception is Wanda De Jesus — she could have used a lot more takes. This is not a slight. She certainly seems to be a perfectly competent actor. But hers is the only part that really requires depth. Every other character in the film is straight graphic novel fare. And her performance seems constantly off. I image Eastwood like Ed Wood after De Jesus asked for another take, “What’s to shoot?! It was perfect!” But another problem is the script.

Again, this is not a slight toward screenwriter Brian Helgeland. For one thing, he co-wrote the excellent script for LA Confidential, which is a marvel of condensation. But the script for Blood Work is almost nothing but exposition. It made me think that Eastwood is as impatient with writers as he is with actors. Helgeland made some good changes to the novel, most especially Buddy, the Jeff Daniels character. But the main problem is the same as it always was: a supremely weak third act. After the plot twist, it disintegrates into mindless action — like John Woo, but thankfully not as long.

There is a strong tendency in films to fall apart in the third act. It is as though the story has gone on long enough and filmmakers have decided to simply end it — regardless of what damage they must do to character, the preceding plot, and good sense. In the case of Blood Work, the serial killer seems to think that he can now be known by sight and by name and yet “get settled” and continue on with the game he’s been engaged in with the Eastwood character from the beginning.

In addition to this, we get an incredibly tedious denouement right out of Dirty Harry. As Eastwood scowls down at the killer, he might as well say, “Make my day!” It’s the same look that Eastwood had during the whole of Gran Torino. Eastwood is a limited actor, but we like him. So the film is reasonably watchable because of that and the addition of Daniels and Paul Rodriguez as the resentful detective. But given that there are so many other films that are better and more enjoyable, there isn’t much point in watching it.

Nothing Changes: Police Hissy Fits

Police Dissent 1968 - The New York Times

This little scan from The New York Times comes via Digby who got it from NYT Archives. The image includes the text, “In large part, the current dispute is the result of the resentment the police feel toward City Hall for what they say is ‘abuse’ they have suffered at the hands of demonstrators and others allegedly encouraged by political leaders. A breakdown of authority is also cited by policemen.” In the text above what I’ve included here is something about not enforcing some laws. It all is very tired, as we have watched the New York City police officers stage their continued hissy fits about how they don’t get no respect.

But as you can probably tell, this is not a report about the current situation. This is a report from 1968. Then as now, it probably has more to do with union contracts than anything else. But, of course, the police can’t come out and say that. They have to claim that somehow they are being oppressed. They just know that they are completely good and no one should ever have cause to complain about them. And their jobs are so dangerous. (Even though they aren’t.) It’s the kind of thinking that comes from members of insular groups. And that’s why all the police grousing isn’t just familiar because we’ve heard it from the police time and time again. We hear it all the time from all kinds of different people.

My favorite example comes from cultural Christians who get ever so upset when a department story decides to say “Happy holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas!” How dare they include other celebrations in the month of December when everyone knows that Christmas is the only one that matters! Notice what’s going on here. A majority group feels oppressed — not because they are oppressed but simply because minority groups are not oppressed. This is “not being singled out as better than others” as oppression.

There is also the general Fox News conservative lament that conservatives are oppressed. They’ve gotten nothing but one political victory after another for four decades, yet according to them they are oppressed. Is it that their “side” in any debate is ignored or belittled? No. It is that their beliefs are not reported as fact. When Fox News says that it is “fair and balanced,” that is what it means. In the conservative mind, “fair and balanced” means that conservative ideas are taken as The Truth™ and not just the opinion of a minority of the country.

And so it is with the police. I think the worst thing that ever happened to policing in the United States was the invention of the automobile. It separated the police from the people even more than they always were. And they always were. And that is a problem. We see the same thing with, say, the maintenance crew in a large apartment complex. There is a natural sense of “us versus them.” But with police, we have the problem that “us” have the right to kill “them.” And given that police are ultimately public servants, they can’t afford to have that attitude.

In the military, not showing respect for and deference to civilian authority is a firing offense. The police should be the same way. If they want to show up to a funeral out of uniform and snub the mayor, that should be their right. But when they are in uniform, they should have no such right. It makes the police force look like a law unto itself. But I’m sure that this idea has never occurred to the police in their current hissy fit. And that’s because everyone they know thinks the same way. And that’s because everyone they know is also a police officer.

Final Word on New Republic Exodus

John StoehrOther than a mutual concern for informed debate and a desire for smart discussion of the arts, what do I have in common with these leading lights of public discourse, with these celebrated arbiters of taste and propriety among Washington’s elite? The New Republic stands alone among journals of liberal opinion for having a long history of bending the ear of the powerful, for speaking directly to that insulated cabal of the wealthy and consequential. If every displeased, dismayed and disillusioned journalist in the country decided one day to quit in protest of a publisher’s meanness and moral turpitude, there wouldn’t be any employed journalists anywhere. The fact that these influencers of the influential did so is a reminder of the social status and political power they continue to enjoy.

Most journalists (most I know, anyway) toil far from such lofty and influential heights. They shoulder everyday contempt and rage for the verities of newsroom politics. They despise the meddling and near-sighted ethics of their publishers. They work longer hours for less pay and fewer benefits. They freelance for pennies if they write for anything. And when they are fired or laid off or they quit, they don’t seamlessly transition to the faculty lounge or think tanks eager to embrace them. Most leave journalism altogether. To feel solidarity with those who resigned under their own power from one of the most coveted jobs anyone can have in 21st-century journalism is an act of cognitive dissonance if it isn’t an act of self-loathing.

Such was missing from most coverage of The New Republic’s collapse. Sure, we read about all the many scandalous details of what happened—that publisher Chris Hughes had hired a replacement for editor Franklin Foer before telling Foer he was being replaced; that the publication’s new CEO, Guy Vidra, appeared drunk on the incoherence of industry lingo when he told staffers he wanted to “break shit and embrace being uncomfortable” in the pursuit of transforming The New Republic into a “vertically-integrated digital-media company”; that the Washington cognoscenti chattered so garrulously about Vidra’s word-salad vision for the magazine that you’d think people everywhere actually cared about what was happening to it.

But mostly what we read about was the brave few who quit in solidarity with Foer and long-time literary editor Leon Wieseltier. They were the protagonists of a story in which they stood against vulgarity and disregard for civil institutions, in which they battled the forces of “disruptive innovation” that daily threaten to make all that’s solid melt into air and all that’s holy profane. Indeed, they were the heroes deserving of more than they were given, even though each in one way or another—intentionally or not, fairly or not—was complicit in the triumph of a conservative political order 40 years ago that in the end they said they fought so strenuously against.

From the very beginning of what would become a dominant orthodoxy in the advance of free trade, low taxation, and deregulation (in a word, “Reaganomics”), these Very Serious People reflected, rationalized and amplified the views of elite Washington. Yet when agents of that order sought to destabilize one of its primary organs, they were disgusted. The untouchables who long ago accepted creative destruction as a plainly evident fact of life were suddenly touched, and they didn’t like it. Or perhaps it wasn’t creative destruction they minded so much. Perhaps what bothered them was their no longer being the exception to the dominant orthodoxy.

They were just like everyone else.

—John Stoehr
The “Liberalism” of The New Republic Didn’t Work

Religion Is Politics

Oscar RomeroAccording to the Catholic Herald, Archbishop Óscar Romero Was a Martyr, Declare Vatican Theologians. It’s about time. The man was murdered while serving Mass 35 years ago. But for the last 20 years, the Catholic Church has been dithering. Finally, they decided that he was murdered “in hatred of the faith” and not because of his political stances. It seems pretty clear to me that the only reason this issue has moved along is that the Catholic Church has its first liberal pope in fifty years. (Or forty years if I’m being liberal.)

It’s all nonsense, of course. Romero was most definitely assassinated because of his political views. And he’s been “hung up in committee” for two decades because of his political views. The idea that religion is not political is a joke. Certainly, there are theologians who work with ontology and other purely theoretical topics. But mostly what churches do is political. And they are right in the thick of it. “Blessed are the meek” (Matthew 5:5) is a political statement. “Turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) is a political statement. And the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) is a political statement. Yes, those are all from the Sermon on the Mount. It is the best thing in the Bible and it is entirely political.

I don’t mind that the Catholic Church feels it must play this semantic game. We should all be allowed our delusions. But it doesn’t mean the rest of us should follow along. The whole thing reveals an important rift not only in the Catholic Church but in religion generally. As social organizations, churches cannot help but be political. But the more a church claims to be purely religious, the more overtly, and vilely, it seems to be political. I think it isn’t at all surprising that whenever I talk to a member of the explicitly non-political Jehovah’s Witnesses, she usually spouts some of the most careless Fox News inspired conservatism imaginable.

And this is what we see from the absolute focus of Evangelicals on abortion and homosexuality. Homosexuality is a bit of a stretch, but at least it is in the Old Testament. But abortion really is the “72 virgins” of Christianity. It isn’t in the Bible. It is just something that Catholic scholars worked out over hundreds of years. Certainly in the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas didn’t believe that “life begins at conception” or that every sperm is sacred. And it wasn’t these finely argued considerations that ended evangelicals antipathy for the issue in the 1970s. It was their concern that they would be forced to accept African Americans into their religious schools. But if you ask them about abortion, they will tell you that it is all about God’s law.

Similarly, last week, Archbishop Thomas Wenski sent out a memo to his employees telling them if they made public statements in favor of same sex marriage, they risked being fired. Do you feel that Christian love?! I am very curious how this is in the least bit theological. The archbishop, after all, is not saying that employees shouldn’t advocate for the Catholic Church doing same sex marriages. This is strictly a secular matter: what the government will allow, not what the Church must do.

So if some same sex marriage advocate went crazy and killed Archbishop Wenski, it would clearly be a political act. But the Catholic Church would also be right that he was killed for his faith. Because the two are the same thing. But I’ll bet you this: it wouldn’t take the Vatican 35 years to say that he was a martyr.

Eldzier Cortor

Eldzier CortorToday, the great painter Eldzier Cortor is 99 years old. He is known most for the influence of African art of his portrayal of the female figure most especially. This has led to some criticisms of his work as objectifying women. That’s actually a pretty funny criticism of an artist who, you know, objectifies everything. But whatever.

His art is hard to pigeonhole, which is typical of the best modern artists. There is no doubt that much of his work is surrealist. That’s quite explicit in something like Room No V. But here is one that seems less obviously so, Woman in an Interior from 1945. The window panes are similar to what Magritte would do later in The Empire of Lights:

Woman in an Interior - Eldzier Cortor

And then, in a totally different vein, but the very same year: Man with Sickle. I’d commented before that the subject seemed to express “pain and anger.” But I’m no longer sure. He may just exhibit exhaustion. I’m not sure there is a difference. But it is an amazing painting:

Man With Sickle - Eldzier Cortor

Happy birthday Eldzier Cortor!


Image of Eldzier Cortor cropped, reduced, and degraded from an image by Fern Logan.