Break like the wind

19 05 2011

Not a fan of Lars von Trier.

I should say up front that I haven’t actually seen a von Trier film in its entirety: I’ve seen chunks of Dancer in the Dark and bits of Breaking the Waves but, for the most part, I have been quite content to let his Dogma pass me by.

I’m not quite sure why, oh, hell, I know exactly why—because I don’t care to spend 90 or 120 or 150 minutes watching women get the shit beaten out of them physically, sexually, emotionally, and/or intellectually. I know, he’s supposed to very artistic in his assaults, and perhaps he’s even making some kind of point about the status of women, but point or not, I don’t want to watch it.

(I consider this a bit of a failing on my part, actually, that I am unwilling to sit through movies which make me uncomfortable or set me off, but, well, let me hold off on why I think so.)

Still, as a non-connoisseur of his works, I admit that I may be missing something wonderful and sly, and that people who love his work might have terrific reasons for doing so. I even have a bit of admiration for that whole Dogma thing—not because I sign on to worth of its strictures, but because the attempt to place limits on oneself in service to art is a worthy practice.

Calling oneself a Nazi in service to art is, however, puzzling.

I’m with The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody when he argues that

it should not be troubling to anyone that he claims to understand Hitler; it’s the job of artists to attempt to understand and enter into imaginative sympathy even with monsters; what makes artists artists is their ability to illuminate the darkest regions of the soul.

I don’t think you have to be a Nietzschean (although it might help) to see that art has its own morality, one which does not and perhaps even should not have much to do with ethical or political norms.
Still, it is perhaps unsurprising that when a man-of-the-movies opines at a film festival press conference on sympathies which, um, heavily intersect with history and politics, that there might be some complications:

But, anyway, I really wanted to be a Jew, and then I found out I’m really a Nazi, because my family was German, Hartmann, which also gave me some kind of pleasure. What can I say? I understand Hitler. But I think he did some wrong things, yes, absolutely, but I can see him sitting in his bunker in the end.

He continues the ramble (you can read it at the link, above) with asides about Israel (“a pain in the ass”) and  Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier and a thumbs-up for Albert Speer, only to have it all end (more or less) with him saying “Okay, I’m a Nazi.”

The Cannes Film Festival booted von Trier, although his film Melancholia remains. That seems about right.

Yes, even with my the-artists-must-be-free schtick (and even as I accept that von Trier might be less artist than huckster—but that’s another conversation), that they ought to have the freedom to create even the most outrageous art, that doesn’t mean they get a free (ahem) pass to say whatever they want wherever they want without consequence. Slap, and be slapped in turn.

And given the Cannes Film Festival’s own history—it was created as an explicit counterpoint to the fascist-overrun Venice Film Festival—it is unsurprising that organizers would take a dim view of anyone claiming sympathy with Nazis, even if done so (half?)-jokingly and without any apparent forethought.

Maybe he thought he was being clever and provocative, maybe he panicked as a stray thought managed to find its way into words and he had no way of reining it back in. Maybe he did mean it. Maybe he’s just a prick.

I tend to go with a combination of clever/provocative and panicked. He did apologize, which suggests either cravenness and/or abashedness; again, I go with the combo option.

I also think the fest organizers’ actions ought to be the end of it. Certainly, some moviegoers might want to avoid his films as a result or some actors might not take a call from him—if you can’t get past the man to experience the work—but there’s no ipso facto reason to avoid his films.

None of this is to excuse von Trier, bumbling offender though he may be, nor is it an excuse for Woody Allen or Mel Gibson or Roman Polanski. Again, if you can’t get past the man—I can’t, really, with Gibson—then it makes sense to avoid the work, but I don’t know that this is so much a moral position as an aesthetic one.

And that you like the work of  von Trier, Gibson, Allen, or Polanski doesn’t make you a Nazi, a violent and anti-Semitic misogynist, a schmuck, or a rapist, nor does appreciation for their work signal acceptance of their behavior. And please, if you do love the work of people who’ve done or said wretched things, don’t feel like you have to minimize said wretchedness (“it wasn’t ‘rape’ rape”) in order to justify that love.

Have the courage of your artistic convictions.





Doomed: candy-assed conservatives and sniveling liberals

9 03 2011

Oh, please.

I had a nice long (eh, decently-lengthed) post about the NPR kerfuffle in mind, but the filthiness of my mood is hindering my ability to string coherent thoughts together.

So, lemme just toss a few of ’em out there, and let them scatter as they will.

  1. NPR guy Ron Schiller was dumb. Dumb for not recognizing that the Malign Pranksters are out to get everyone they don’t like. Dumb for not taking into account that NPR/Corporation for Public Broadcasting funds are subject of debate in Congress, and thus making them a likely target for such MP activity.
  2. NPR development staff was dumb for all the reasons listed in 1, and thus for not bothering to get information on a possible donor. (And development people, doncha want as much info as you can get, regardless, if only to make your own pitch more convincing?)
  3. Karma for Juan Williams? Eh.
  4. Karma for Juan William for Vivian Schiller? Eh.
  5. Schiller’s right: NPR would be better off without (i.e., freer) without federal funding.
  6. Schiller’s wrong: It’s ridiculous that the federal government buckles at the thought of liberals working for NPR.
  7. Schiller’s wrong: It’s ridiculous that the federal government buckles at the thought of NPR.
  8. NPR caved. This guy Schiller was out already, and NPR acted like a fucking Oliver Twist orphan before the cameras.
  9. NPR should have gone on the offensive and made a passionate argument in favor not only of public radio, but of public life in general.
  10. No one sticks up for public life in general.
  11. We on the left ought to stick up for public life in general.
  12. Everyone in an open society ought to stick up for public life in general.
  13. Can people who work for public agencies not have any opinions whatsoever?
  14. Can people who work in media not have any opinions whatsoever?
  15. Can people who work anywhere not have any opinions whatsoever?
  16. What about Juan Williams, again? Should NPR have fired him for his Muslims-scare-me remarks? Eh.
  17. How far can any employer go in basing employment and promotion decisions on private expressions of opinion?
  18. Does it matter that Schiller was on the job and expressing opinions?
  19. Does it matter that the opinions Schiller expressed were unkind to TeaPers?
  20. Does it matter that Juan William was not on the NPR job but his other job and expressing opinions?
  21. Why aren’t more people upset at this whole notion that any conversation might be filmed and used against you?
  22. Why aren’t more people skeptical of the Malign Pranksters, especially given their history of distorted editing and criminal activity (as in attempt to bug the office of US Senator Mary Landrieu)?
  23. I’ve been agreeing with Jeffrey Goldberg a little bit too often for my comfort level.
  24. Is there a difference between using undercover video to attack political opponents than to reveal (as in back-in-the-day 60 Minutes) wrongdoing?
  25. Given my strong beliefs in privacy, would it be wrong for me to advocate someone camping out at O’Keefe’s home or office and constantly following and taping him and all known associates?
  26. Given both my strong beliefs in privacy and the necessity of political hardball, is “fighting fire with fire” an appropriate  response?
  27. Given  my strong belief about the necessity of political hardball, is going on the offensive regarding our apparent inability to handle the fact that adults disagree about politics an appropriate response?
  28. Why is the phrase “candy-assed” (or, in G-rated form, “crybaby”) conservative not in wider use?

And those are just the thoughts I could untangle.

Fucking American politics. I mean, really.





And I’ve fucked up so many times in my life

2 07 2009

I’m slowly getting used to being a failure.

It was a little hard on the ego, at first, but after that first nip of recognition, things have been much easier.

I’m not being glum, or trying to elicit an ‘oh-you’re-not-a-failure’ response; I’m simply recognizing that by any of the standards I’ve set for myself, I haven’t done much.

I’m alive. That’s one point in my favor.

Didn’t use to be: To be alive was evidence of failure. I was supposed to be dead, and was not.

Now I’m all right with that. In fact, it’s downright fine that I’m not dead.

Okay, so now that I’m alive, I’m off charging up the professional ranks and blazing new theories and astonishing my colleagues with the discipline of my thought and the brilliance of my prose. Tenure? Hah! Why, I’ve already attained a full professorship! Students are scrambling to study with me; other universities are recruiting me. My articles are must-reads.

Oh, wait, no. That’s someone else entirely. I’m an adjunct professor at a CUNY college, with no job security beyond the semester.

What about the writing career? Two novels! Two more in the pipeline! Short stories! Plays! Pulitzers and Tonys and National Book. . . oh, sorry, that’s not me, either.

I live in a junior one-bedroom on the far side of Prospect Park in Brooklyn, with wine boxes serving as bookcases and drawers and end-tables, chairs covered with fabric remnants because I can’t afford to get them reupholstered, socks kept in milk crates, and Trader Joe’s beer in the fridge.

I’m forty-mumble-mumble years old and I live like a grad student. Only I have fewer prospects than a grad student, what with consciously turning away from any attempt at a tenure-track position and not caring quite enough about money to live otherwise and all.

And I’m all right with that. When I was in SmallTown I ran into a cousin I hadn’t seen in, oh, a decade, and each of us mentioned that our lives may not look like other people’s, but they work for us. We nodded at each other. I’m not rich, I mused, but I am free.

And I am. Not free of anxiety (especially not anxiety over—natch—money) or dissatisfaction or anger or any of the other nonsense that comes with a messy (i.e., human) life, but free of the sense that my life belongs to anyone other than me.

So by most American standards, I’m a failure; by my own standards, I’m a failure. But I’m also free to laugh about it, and let it go, and maybe, someday, not to think about success or failure.

It’s not so bad, this failure thing. Feels kind of like freedom, actually. Not bad at all.