Tuesday, May 22, 2012

boring on hara-kiri

At this point the unpopular teleological argument usually slips in to increase assurance about the thermal insensitivity of the intestines. The esophagus and stomach can easily be stimulated thermally and might therefore be endowed with means for thermal perception; but why should the intestines have thermal receptors, when from birth to death they meet with almost no thermal change except from enemas, surgery, accidents or conceivably hara-kiri?

E. G. Boring (1942) Sensation and Perception in the History of Experimental Psychology, remarking on the lack of adequate experimental investigation of the ability of the intestine to sense heat.

Monday, May 21, 2012

let the people go!

Penn on Obama's drug policy.

1. Yes, beyond hypocrisy.

2. Yes, class and race warfare against African Americans and the poor.


Tickle may thus be finally defined as an intensely vivid complex of unsteady, ill-localized and ill-analyzed sensation, with attention distributed over the immediate sensory contents and the concomitant sensations reflexly evoked. Its immediate sensory contents is not qualitatively different from contact, but in actual experience tickle is distinguishable from the ordinary contact complex in its character of a 'feeling' rather than a perception.

~ Elsie Murray (1908) A Qualitative Analysis of Tickling: Its Relation to Cutaneous and Organic Sensation

Thursday, May 17, 2012

contempt vs. love: versus

Can love survive contempt?

Or, perhaps, does love depend on contempt?

Andrzej Żuławski's (1975) L'important c'est d'aimer ("The Most Important Thing is To Love", we'll call it "Love" for short) can be read as a commentary on and response to Jean-Luc Godard's (1963) Le mépris ("Contempt")—a commentary which holds up a funhouse mirror to Godard's film and inverts all its basic themes.

Although L'important c'est d'aimer is clearly a commentary on many French films, its special relationship to Contempt is signaled early on by its strikingly similar use of music. Not only are the scores of both films by the same composer, Georges Delerue, but the themes are strikingly similar, and used in very similar ways, i.e. sharply inserted over relatively mundane scenes between long stretches of unscored dialogue.

[Much as Cannibal Holocaust's use of a score by Jacopetti and Prosperi's composer Riz Ortolani signals it as a commentary on their documentary style.]

Additionally, there are further thematic overlaps: both films are stories of infidelity, in the entertainment world (theater; film), with a bizarre commentary on a famous earlier work thematically interwoven (Contempt: The Odyssey; Love: Richard III).

And both movies are about the relationship between love and contempt.

But the relationship between love and contempt is strangely reversed in the two movies.

In Contempt, a young(ish) writer allows / encourages his young and beautiful wife (Brigitte Bardot!) to spend time unchaperoned with his potential employer, the producer (Jack Palance!) of an exploitation film version of The Odyssey directed by Fritz Lang (Fritz Lang!). When he refuses to acknowledge he's done something morally suspect, Bardot describes herself as feeling only "contempt" toward him. Although it is never revealed what happened between Bardot and Palance during the initial incident, she eventually leaves her husband for Palance, her love having evaporated due to her contempt.

The critical scene, in which the writer encourages his wife into the potential for infidelity.

So: for Godard, contempt is the antithesis of love.

re: The Odyssey, Palance pushes on the writer his personal interpretation of Homer's epic, namely that Ulysses is in fact reluctant to return home and deliberately prolongs his voyage because he no longer loves his wife.

In L'important c'est d'aimer a young photographer / admirer becomes enthralled with an "aging" (well, thirty) actress. Her husband allows them unchaperoned situations together, wherein she makes sexual advances, but the photographer never takes advantage of them. Her husband at one point confronts the photographer, saying he's offended the man won't even fuck his wife, and that he "needs a reprieve" from his 6 years of waking up next to her.

Upon overhearing the romantic conversation between his wife and the photographer, the husband literally puts on clown makeup before confronting them, and inviting the photographer to dinner.

In a crucial late scene, the actress and her husband meet at a cafe of personal significance in the history of their relationship. He says that she feels only pity for him and that this manifests as contempt. He tells her that despite his desire for a reprieve, he loves her, at which point she yells in tears that "I don't even know what that means." Throughout, there is implication that, despite his buffoonery, her husband has somehow supported her through emotionally difficult times, prevented from slipping into a career of prostitution, etc.

Later, the husband commits suicide, and finally the photographer commits to a physical relationship with the actress. In the final scene, the photographer is beaten violently by gangsters whom he owes money. The actress arrives at their home, discovering him beaten, bloody, and helpless on the floor, runs to embrace him, sobbing "I love you."

re: Richard III, as the famous scene between Richard and Lady Anne is rehearsed in the play within a film in Love, the director of the play asks the actress's actual husband to lay in the coffin while she speaks her lines. Later, the scene is recreated when her husband indeed lies dead and she seeks comfort in the "murderer" of her husband, the photographer.

Ian McKellen and Kristin Scott Thomas in a classic version of this scene from 1995.

"Was ever woman in this humor wooed? Was ever woman in this humor won!"

The topsy-turvy recreation of the Richard III deathbed wooing scene, in which the photographer asks why the husband killed himself, before being beaten, and then kissed, by the actress.

So, in both films, the woman feels contempt for her husband—in Contempt, this is why she leaves, in Love, this is why he leaves.

Godard's is a conservative view of marriage—the man fails to assert his protection / sexual ownership of his wife, consequently, she leaves him for one more forceful.

Żuławski's is a bizarre looking-glass version of the control relationship in marriage: by perceiving her man as weak, the actress gains strength herself, but correspondingly drives him to suicide. She replaces him with another whom, only once she sees in him a similarly pathetic and powerless position, is she able to assert that she loves. Here, pity breeds contempt breeds (for her) love. A position which kills her husband and traps the photographer into a twisted, self-sacrificial role.

Inverted also is what we see. In Godard's film, we never see the moments where indiscretion is possible, and this ambiguity is essential in order to understand the emotional tension between Bardot and her husband.

In Żuławski's film, we see all the chances for potential infidelity in excruciating detail, and also the failure of any consummation.

But this decision is crucially tied to the inversion of the message. For Godard's heroine, it is her husband's attitude which offends her; her actions are irrelevant for that dynamic. For Żuławski's heroine, it is her own behavior towards the men around her that drives their madness. This corruptive influence is all the more interesting precisely because her character is so compelling and sympathetic. What is unseen here are not the incidents of the current love triangle, but the 6 years of marriage prior to these events, defining these characters, but elided from what we, initiates into their surface but not their secrets (as is the photographer), are directly able to witness.

Żuławski shows Godard up as a fake progressive. The supposed cynicism of Contempt is unmasked as traditionalism against the strangely believable inverted chaos of Love's romantic entanglements. True cynicism is revealed in the movie's very title, an implicit answer to an implicit question.

Le mépris?

Non, L'important c'est d'aimer.


L'important c'est d'aimer also happens to feature the greatest Klaus Kinski scene of all time. Kinski plays the actor protraying Richard III, and it's indeed a pleasure to see him deliver the "now" speech, and seduce Anne over her husband's coffin. On opening night, though, at a restaurant afterwards, the players receive the evening edition of the paper and read a scathing review. This is Kinski's reaction:

(The two lines essential to understand this scene. First, Kinski accuses the passing drunks of "touching his coat," asserting "Since I am a well-bred homosexual, I care a lot about my things." After the beating, he remarks to the women, "If you're as vulgar as he, it will be perfect." Before leaving with them. Awe inspiring.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Saturday, May 12, 2012

bad lieutenant: versus

The relationship between Abel Ferrara's (1992) Bad Lieutenant and Werner Herzog's (2009) Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is highly ambiguous. Reportedly, Ferrara hated the 2009 version, and Herzog didn't even see the original.

As far as I can tell, Port of Call is the first produced feature script by a TV writer, although on imdb they've credited all four writers of the original as well, perhaps because there are so many plot / thematic similarities between the two movies.

Both "bad lieutenants" (i) take drugs; (ii) gamble; (iii) abuse their authority to obtain drugs; (iv) abuse their authority to obtain sexual favors; but also (v) do actually care about their role as homicide investigators and pursue it vigorously.

Additionally, the arc of both movies is similar, with a traumatic event haunting the lieutenant (original: massive gambling debt accruing as the Mets come from behind to beat the Dodgers in a seven game series; Port of Call: constant pain due to an injury suffered during Hurricane Katrina) as he relentlessly investigates a horrendous case (original: Nun raped in a church by young hoodlums; Port of Call: immigrant family slaughtered by drug lords).

Both films bear the distinctive stylistic marks of their respective directors.

But one can see the origins of Ferrara's hatred of the Herzog not-really-a-sequel, perhaps, in the radically different messages of the two films.

Ferrara's is a complex Catholic passion play. In his quest to solve the rape / desecration case, the lieutenant (re)discovers the significance of sacrifice and forgiveness in the attitude of the nun, who refuses to identifier her assailants because she has already forgiven them. Ultimately, promising her the justice she wants, he discovers their identities, but helps them escape, thereby sacrificing his own life in the process. Redemption through sacrifice and forgiveness.

Herzog's version is completely stripped of religious imagery or significance. Instead we see the images of violent nature and chaotic forces common in so many other Herzog films. Where Ferrara's lieutenant sees images of Christ's suffering on the cross, Herzog's sees phantom iguanas and break-dancing Japanese. Where Ferrara's lieutenant "solves" his case by helping the criminals escape and sacrificing his own life, Herzog's sees a bizarre twist in fortune, and arrests his criminals on phony evidence, though preventing his partner from slaughtering them on the spot, instead trusting the due process of law to see right. There is redemption here, but redemption through a combination of chance, diligence, and assistance from others.

So, Ferrara's message is quintessentially Catholic, while Herzog's is resolutely humanistic. Unsurprising, perhaps, given Ferrara's Catholic upbringing and Herzog's chaotic youth during World War II.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

protest as prayer

Today is May Day, a holiday which used to involve virgin sacrifices, wicker men, and maypoles; now it involves waving signs, interrupting traffic, and chanting slogans about "change" and "revolution" and how everything wrong with the world is someone else's fault.

This exercise is an instance of "prayer"—therapy through supplication to an imaginary entity. Protests as practiced in the contemporary United States do not affect government policy, they are not appeals to the president, they do not affect the opinions of individuals in any positive way, they do not generate any measurable, positive effect on the socio-economic status of the underprivileged or of those who engage in particularly onerous and under-remunerated brands of labor.

We can see they are not appeals to the president, since he himself is held up as an instigator and supporter of protests:

But who is the president exhorting the occupy movement to appeal to? Who are they protesting against?

It is the imaginary "other"—he who is responsible for all my travails, whoever it may be, that one.

Of course, protests in the US are directed against this imaginary other, while prayer in the Judeo-Christian sense is usually directed toward an imaginary other. In both cases, however, the primary function served is catharsis an inner relief from stress, depression, and pain by the foisting off onto an omnipotent other of one's problems, and, crucially, one's blame and responsibility for those problems.

And just as blameless is the retreat from the pain of this modern world into impotent prayer, so also is the retreat into impotent protest—protest free of conscience and clear of blame, but also closed of eyes and crippled of agency.

[This is not to say the practice of gathering in the streets has not, at any time, had political effect—many times it has; but in those times, there was purpose, focus, and unanimity, not ignorance, selfishness, and inconsistency.]