The Exorcist Is Too Serious But Still Enjoyable

The ExorcistThe second to last episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus is “Mr Neutron.” It is widely reviled and considered one of the worst episodes of the series — if not the worst episode. I think it is comedic genius. The main storyline is about Mr Neutron: “easily the most dangerous man the world has ever seen.” Yet he spends the entire episode hanging out in the suburbs discussing gardening and falling in love with the cleaning woman. In the end, the humans destroy the world out of their fear of him. As I watched The Exorcist earlier today, I thought a lot about Mr Neutron.

For all the really stupendous things that Pazuzu does to poor little Linda Blair, he seems perfectly contented to hang out in that room. And he is powerful. It takes Death over an hour and half to kill of Max von Sydow in The Seventh Seal, and Pazuzu manages to do it in the couple of minutes that Jason Miller steps out for a breather. Although that does feel a bit forced. They knew that they were dealing with a dangerous creature — prone to staying in one room — but dangerous nonetheless. It had, after all, killed the film director; it sprayed green goo everywhere; and it twisted that poor girl’s head in circles. Oh: and levitation and moving stuff around and making the room cold.

But the thing about the film is that it is highly effective. The first half of the film is classic suspense — the kind that we used to get in haunted house movies (also in more recent films like The Others). Early scenes like when Ellen Burstyn goes up in the attic looking for rats are chilling. So by the time we get to the last 20 minutes of the film where Blair is wearing an inch of makeup and we enter the world of Poltergeist, it doesn’t seem silly. Although out of context, that part of the film is indeed silly — very silly.

The real problem with the film is the center section. There is too much time spent trying to justify the premise. It’s a movie after all. If I had a little girl who came down stairs at a party, just to urinate on the carpet, sure, I’d think she might need to see a doctor. But if she started freaking out while her bed was bouncing around the room, I wouldn’t go to the group of doctors and complain that they kept telling me my daughter had a brain tumor.

Ultimately, this is what keeps The Exorcist from being a great film. It takes itself too seriously. It’s fine to spend half a movie questioning if the impossible is really happening. But that’s only true if it is never clear what’s really going on. In this film, that isn’t the case. Pazuzu is mad at Max von Sydow and apparently, this really oblique way was the only way to get to him. Overall, I’d have to say that Constantine does a better job of this aspect. But it’s third act is weak (although the scene with Peter Stormare is great), and with The Exorcist we get the previously mention green goo and rotating head — which is awesome.

It’s also notable that on a technical level, the The Exorcist is first rate. I loved the cinematography. And the editing is paced really well. The dialog is usually pretty weak, but the outstanding cast makes it work anyway. But for a horror film made over forty years ago, it holds up remarkably well. Still, it’s more fun to watch House on Haunted Hill or The Shining.


There is much I could say about the theme of the film. Maybe I will at some later time. I’ve got the flu and I don’t feel up to it. But the film doesn’t deserve too much analysis. It touches on a few things, but doesn’t take anything very seriously. But hey: green goo.

Kansas Balances Budget on the Backs of the Poor

Sam BrownbackWe should not be happy about this, Brownback to Sign Historic Sales Tax Hike After Bruising Budget Battle. As I’ve written about a lot around here, Kansas is in big trouble. Governor Sam Brownback wanted to cut taxes in his state. So he did what conservatives always do when they want to do something insane: he went out and found himself a heterodox economist who would tell him what he wanted to hear. It wasn’t hard. He went to Art Laffer who has been saying that tax cuts pay for themselves since the 1970s. He’s always been wrong, but that hardly matters.

So in the case of the recent tax cuts in Kansas, Laffer was wrong again, and the state has found itself with a huge budget deficit — 12% short in the fiscal year starting next month. They’ve already savagely cut their spending so now they are to the point where they have no choice but to raise taxes. Now the logical thing to do would be to raise the taxes that they lowered. But that is not acceptable. You see, those taxes were lowered on rich people. And despite what conservatives say, they don’t care about low taxes in a general sense; they care about low taxes on the rich.

You know Grover Norquist — the guy who all the Republicans rush to so they can sign his pledge to never raise taxes. Well, that pledge isn’t actually about all taxes. It’s just a pledge to stand against increasing “the marginal income tax rates.” That’s because the federal income tax is the only federal tax that is progressive. Richer people really do pay more. (Extremely rich people don’t, because they make “unearned” income.) When Congress was set to raise the payroll tax — an extremely regressive tax that hits the poor hard — Norquist was all for it. So just remember that: conservatives are for lowering the taxes of the wealthy; they don’t care about the taxes of anyone else.

The Kansas legislature came up with two tax increases to make up for the corporate giveaways of the last couple of years. The first is an almost 6% (0.35 percentage point) increase in the sales tax. Sales taxes are great from the standpoint of conservatives. They screw the poor, but inch by inch, so that it isn’t really noticed. Are you really going to notice that your laundry soap costs two cents more? Sure, the hundred bucks you lose for the year will be noticeable, but you won’t know who to blame; you’ll just have a vague feeling that you are falling behind — because you are.

The second tax increase is going to be noticed. And it is going to make people mad. Kansas currently taxes a pack of cigarettes 79 cents. The new law will increase that by $1.29 — that’s a total of $2.08 tax on a pack of cigarettes. Now you might say, “Great! We should discourage smoking!” And I agree to some extent. But poor people are more likely to smoke. And if we are doing this for public health reasons, the tax should go toward helping people get off cigarettes and toward treating cigarette related illnesses. This Kansas tax is just meant to grab some money from the most vulnerable people in our society.

Remember: Sam Brownback was just re-elected governor. And what he is doing now is going to make a lot of people really angry. Yet this is no bait-and-switch. Brownback is doing what he’s always done. This is more of what I wrote about recently, Swing State Voter Regret Is Killing Me. When the price of a pack of cigarettes jumps up to $7.00, there will be a lot of Kansans who will think they’ve been screwed by Brownback and his cronies. But they’ll be wrong. A lot of poor and middle class people vote for people like Brownback thinking that he would never hurt them. They are deeply confused. Maybe some day they will learn.


I know a surprising number of people who are on disability who are Fox News addicts who consistently vote Republican. When I ask them why they vote for politicians who will, if they get the opportunity, cut their support, they brush it off. The Republicans, they claim, just want to get “those” people — the scammers — not good deserving people like themselves. It’s pure delusion.

Yes, Hillary Clinton Is a Real Liberal

Hillary ClintonMatt Yglesias reminds us of something important, Hillary Clinton Has Always Been to Obama’s Left on Economics. This is part of Clinton’s branding campaign. And I have always accepted this. One of the narratives to come out of Bill Clinton’s presidential tenure that I think is actually true is that Hillary was the more liberal of the two. Of course, it was generally presented as, “Bill Clinton is extremely liberal but Hillary is a radical.” Neither of those statements were true, but I think they got the ordering right. I don’t think that Hillary Clinton would ever have ended welfare as we know it.

Now I understand that Hillary has always come off as something of a war hawk. But is she any worse than her husband or Barack Obama or George W Bush? More to the point, could she possibly be as bad as the Republicans running for president? The only candidate for whom a case could be made would be Rand Paul. And he has shown himself to be easily pushed towards a more arrogant and belligerent stance. And let’s not forget that George W Bush ran on an isolationist policy — he wasn’t going to get involved in any “nation building.”

But the truth is that I don’t care. Regardless of what presidential candidates say about foreign affairs and the national security state, the moment they get into office, all the generals and spooks take the new presidents aside and explain that if they don’t continue on with business as usual, there will be a terrorist attack and the president will be blamed. I’m not sure if this is done out of actual concern or in a coercive way, “Nice country you got here; it’d be a shame if something were to happen to it.” But the end result is the same.

None of this really matters to me. I am liberal right down the line, but the truth is that without economic justice, pretty much everything else is worthless. Racism wouldn’t have a tenth of its power if the nation had relative economic equality. Racism is fed by rich people convincing poor white people that their problems are due to poor black people. That doesn’t mean that I don’t fight against racism — including my own — but it does mean that I am focused on economic issues. If there were actual populists in this country — economically liberal and socially conservative — I might have some trouble knowing who to vote for. But as it is, the people who are terrible on social issues are also terrible on economic issues. When it comes to the Democrats, they tend to be good on social issues and okay on economic issues.

Yglesias noted:

The truth, however, is that on the kind of pocketbook issues Clinton spent most of yesterday’s speech discussing, she’s always been on the left wing of the Democratic Party. She’s been in the public eye far too long to have avoided inconsistencies over the years. But in positional terms, somewhat to the left of Obama — or Bill Clinton — on economics is where she’s been this whole time.

Yglesias went on to note that Clinton ran to Obama’s left on economic issues in 2008 and that she was the head of the leftist wing in the Bill Clinton White House. None of this makes me want to abandon my support for Bernie Sanders. I was just going over his page at On the Issue, and there is remarkably little that I disagree with. But the bottom line is that Hillary Clinton is a perfectly acceptable Democrat. And she has potential to be a great president. People should stop saying that she’s just pretending to be liberal to get the nomination. She really is a liberal.

Morning Music: Édith Piaf Again

Édith PiafI just watched The Exorcist — which I assume I will write about later today. The film is unrelentingly serious and bleak. So I think I owe myself the treat of something of ultimate beauty and happiness. And nothing makes me happier than listening to Édith Piaf — even if there is a current in her work that soon the music will stop and we will all die.

Here is “L’Accordeoniste,” which, admittedly is not a happy song. But it is beautiful and poignant. If you prefer, you can listen to “La Vie en Rose” or “Non, Je ne Regrette Rien.” Otherwise enjoy this song about a prostitute who forgets her troubles while listening to your accordionist husband play — until he is sent off to war and killed.

Anniversary Post: Taj Majal

Mumtaz MahalOn this day in 1631, Mumtaz Mahal died in childbirth. It was her 14th child. She was the star of that early television show, “14 Kids and Dying.” Interestingly, her last baby — a girl, Gauharara Begum — lived to be 75 years old — the second oldest of her children. Mumtaz Mahal was married to Shah Jahan. He was only a couple of months older than she was, and she was the love of his life. When Jahan became the Mughal Emperor of India, she because empress. But none of this is why we remember her.

Jahan was so heartbroken when Mumtaz Mahal died shortly before her 38th birthday, he started to build the Taj Mahal to house here tomb. It took 21 years to build (although it was mostly completed after 11). It is unquestionably one of the greatest architectural achievements in the history of the world. and it is a touching story as well. But I would add that most great art created by men was done to impress and honor what is objectively the better sex.

Taj Mahal

Happy anniversary the beginning of the Taj Majal!