Anniversary Post: Jean-Luc Godard at 85

[Okay, it’s another one of those days that I really don’t like my options for the anniversary post. And it just so happens that it is Jean-Luc Godard’s 85th birthday. I keep forgetting that he is still alive. So I’m rerunning Jean-Luc Godard from last year. Check the Afterword for something else. -FM]

Jean-Luc GodardThe great filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard is 84 years old today. I know, last year I referred to him as overrated. I’ll stand by that. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t great. It’s a general thing anyway. I think the French “New Wave” have been hopelessly overrated. This is probably due to the fact that most of them were film writers so they were in a position to plug themselves — which they did. But generally, give me Robert Bresson over any of them. And generally Alain Resnais over Godard or Truffaut.

Above all, I have never been able to get into À Bout de Souffle, or Breathless as it is commonly known in English. But I’m not one to especially appreciate cinematic technique when it isn’t combined with compelling characters, plot, or theme. I’m willing to admit that I’m missing something, but the film seems to me very sloppy, never clear what it is trying to say. And it has the plot of Dillinger, with less interesting characters.

Godard got more interesting the more political he became. I’ve always been very fond of Alphaville and later still La Chinoise and Week End. His later work also shows more wit, even when he’s being serious. But it is hard to show any of this here. So consider just a minute from Alphaville. I think you can see a direct line from this to Jon Jost:


In the film Alphaville, the lead character is tested with a joke. I wish it were available on YouTube. It is told totally deadpan, and yet is funny as hell:

One day a tiny man entered a North Zone cafe and said, “I want a cup of very hot, sweet coffee,” adding: “I shan’t pay, because I fear no one.” He drank his coffee, he left. He drank his coffee and didn’t pay. The cafe owner said nothing, he was afraid of scandal. But when the tiny man repeated the trick a few times, the cafe owner said: “I’ve had it, I’ll get a tough guy to beat up the tiny man if he comes back.” So, on the fourth day, when the tiny man said, “I want a cup of very hot, sweet coffee,” the tough guy goes to him and says: “So you’re afraid of no one?” “That’s right.” “Well, neither am I.” “Well,” says the tiny man, “make that two cups of coffee. Very hot and very sweet!”

The Happy Pointlessness of Life

CalvaryI’ve notice how personal reading is for me — and I figure for most people. I don’t much read New Republic. Instead, I read Brian Beutler and Elizabeth Bruenig. I’m not so much interested in being informed, because I get that by reading more general things. But I’m interested in what these people have to say. And there isn’t much reason for it. It’s a question of trust or identity. They are people who I can imagine having over for dinner without wanting to murder them. Something like that.

I wonder if it is the same way around here. I assume that it is. The point cannot be to learn about the world, but to learn about what I think of the world. And that’s fine. I do have an outlook on life that isn’t totally unworthy of listening to. I try to be something slightly more than what you will read elsewhere. And there are things — generally related to puppets or Don Quixote — that you won’t read anywhere else. But it does create a bit of a problem when I get quite personal. I don’t write to get a reaction. I write because that is what I do. It is the way that I think about things — the way that I process the world.

After being away from home for five days, I find that I am totally out of sorts. I’ve heard this about cats. They hate it when their worlds are upset. If you do so much as move the couch, they freak out. I feel that way. I hate for my routine to be upset. And it was many times this last week. First there was a day wasted driving. Then I had to work in an unfamiliar environment that worked okay — but not great. And then there was the drive back. And ever since, I’ve been filled with debilitating anxiety.

If I could wed this person I am today with the energetic and happy person I expect to soon be, that would be something: to take joy in the activities of life, even while knowing that it is pointless and that it does matter if I am here tomorrow to continue on with the happy pointlessness of life.

This morning, rather than work, I put on Calvary. When I first watched it, I wrote, Calvary and the Lost Art of Forgiveness. As you can tell from that review, I saw that film in a hopeful way. But this time, it seemed like an allegory of hell. I had noticed this originally, “If he isn’t killed with a bullet to the head, he will be killed with a thousand cuts.” The denouement seems like the greatest act of kindness in the film. The world is evil. It is not surprising that the early Christians would come up with the idea of original sin.

But where does that leave an atheist like myself? I don’t go in for the “thoughtless cynicism” of the townspeople. And I certainly don’t think that the murder of Father James in “Calvary” does a damned thing to fix the problem. Even more, if you look to the Bible, what happened to Judas Iscariot? By church tradition, he either killed himself or was otherwise killed gruesomely. It’s a contradiction, right? In order for Jesus to wash away our sins, he had to be murdered, but Christians hate Judas for facilitating their salvation. If I were a Christian, I would think it Judas who truly suffered (and continues to suffer) for our sins.

It’s all brain chemistry, of course. Whether we feel good or bad, it is just the chemicals swimming around our bodies. Some days I reflect that today would be a very bad day to die. That, I suppose is the illusion. Because those are the days that I want to get things done. Self-actualization is a happy delusion — one I hope to get back in the next couple of days. But I think the way I feel today is much more clear-eyed. I don’t want to die. I just don’t especially care. If I could wed this person I am today with the energetic and happy person I expect to soon be, that would be something: to take joy in the activities of life, even while knowing that it is pointless and that it doesn’t matter if I am here tomorrow to continue on with the happy pointlessness of life.

Why Not “Anti-Choice Terrorism”?

Carly FiorinaI’m half Portuguese. The other half is mongrel, but quite Irish. In fact, since my direct ancestors came from the Azores — you know there is a lot of breeding from the United Kingdom. You know how sailors are. But if people ask me what my ancestors were, I say Portuguese. That’s the most clear thing I am, and I have a Portuguese name, even though it really ought to be spelled, “Morais” (which I much prefer, not least of which because that is closer to the way it is pronounced).

But even with this tenuous relationship to my heritage, I still feel guilt about the Portuguese being really horrible imperialists. And when I first heard the story of Cheryl Araujo being raped by four Portuguese men, I felt ashamed. Again: I’m about as Portuguese as Bugs Bunny. But I still feel that connection — that identity — that makes me cringe when I hear of anyone Portuguese doing something wrong. As a result, I understand it when Christians feel the need to distance themselves for something horrible that other Christians do. But there is a secret weapon that I (and many other people) have against this: I don’t blame groups of people for things that individuals do.

Brian BeutlerThis issue came up in a very big way this last week when Robert Lewis Dear went on a shooting spree. Did he do it because Carly Fioria has been telling lies about Planned Parenthood and because Center for Medical Progress is in the business of stirring up confusion and fear? Does it matter? The truth is that if he did, he is just one of many who have done so specifically because of the anti-choice movement, which has a long history of referring to abortion as murder and putting out false propaganda to paint the whole process as though it were something out of a modern Frankenstein film.

Brian Beutler wrote a very good article about it yesterday, Conservatives’ Planned Parenthood Response: Who Are You Calling a Radical Terrorist? He went through the five stages of conservative reaction to the Dear shooting: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and… denial again. Because it can’t be about them. It can’t be that going on national television and saying that at Planned Parenthood they force women to have late term abortions where the baby is alive, and then they keep it that way so they can “harvest its brain.” I tend to disagree, but I understand the desire to say, “It ain’t me, babe.”

And I would allow them to do just that. There is just this little problem with them being totally self-serving about it. These are, after all, the people who insist upon calling terrorism committed by Muslims as “Islamic terrorism.” In fact, it is such a big deal to them that they seem to think the only reason terrorism still exists is because Obama doesn’t use the exact words that they request. (But didn’t like those words either, not that it matters.) I don’t know about Christian, but clearly Dear’s act is part of the anti-choice movement. And I think there are tons of reasons to blame the movement itself — or at least parts of it. Anyone who has held up pictures of “aborted” fetuses (they are usually still born babies) is culpable in these crimes.

But we aren’t supposed to talk about “anti-choice terrorism.” If we did, we might have to start dealing with the problem here at home. We might even have to talk about easy access to guns. We might require a media that shows that the anti-choice propaganda is false. It would hard. Easy is going after a weak minority in the US, and calling for a halt to immigration, and carpet bombing far away nations. And we are America, so we always do what is easy — not what is right.

Morning Music: I Want You

Blood & ChocolateI’m sorry to say that today is rather a bad day. I don’t write these articles in order, so I know what’s coming. But I thought I would present you with a song to get you ready for it. It’s Elvis Costello’s “I Want You” off Blood & Chocolate. It is a supremely creepy song. I remember doing this. After a relationship ends, tormenting yourself over it.

I remember a woman I knew thought one line was wrong, “Did you call his name out as he held you down.” She thought it should be “as I held you down.” True, that has a certain power, but it totally misses the point of song: the imagination of just what the absent lover is doing. And yet, still you want her. You want to protect her; you want to kill her; you just want her.

I am very glad to be past those times. I have certain expectations of people in my life. I am disappointed and lonely at times. But no one has the kind of power over me that Costello sings about. And it may be the height of hubris to say that no one ever will have that kind of power over me again. It isn’t that it couldn’t happen. But I just would not let it happen. I don’t have that kind of trust in human nature. But you can all laugh heartily at me if I ever allow it to happen. And as you doubtless already know, I would write about it here first.

Anniversary Post: Enron

EnronOn this day in 2001, Enron filed for bankruptcy. I’m not that interested in it. What I am interested in is when I worked for Equilibrium at the beginning of 2001, and there were these constant rolling blackouts. This was in California. And there wasn’t enough electricity? I worked for the company during the winter months, so this couldn’t have had anything to do with actual energy consumption. I wasn’t paying too much attention. I was much more focused on how to make websites work with Netscape 4.7. But still: it was odd. I never remembered having to deal with that kind of thing before.

I’m sure that people who studied this kind of thing knew that it was just market manipulation. I’m sure that regulators understood what was going on. After all, this was the deregulated energy market. The private sector! It was supposed to be perfect. This was the libertarian utopia on a small scale! Who would ever think that it would end in total corruption?! And then after it all came to light, the libertarians explained that the problem was that it wasn’t a free enough market or it was because all markets weren’t free. Because that’s the way it works: as markets get less and less regulated, they get worse and worse. But then, at the very end, when they are completely free, there is a singularity and everything is perfect!

Remember this well all you liberals out there: the free market can never fail; it can only ever be failed.