The Revolutionary Committee
If I’d known I’d’ve been able to sum up the world as succinctly as (with a little help from Ai) I have in this image, before I wrote 33 Myths of the System, I’m not sure I’d’ve bothered.
The Truth Upsets Everyone
Here’s a chart I made to explain… well, actually, although it purports to explain the differences between various political factions today, I actually made it to clarify to myself why, when it comes to political / social analysis I’m so incredibly unpopular! I’ve argued for all the theses along the top row, which means that none of the groups in the first column can get behind my work, leaving me and, dear reader, thee.
When I say ‘the truth’ I mean the truth in much the same sense as ‘the sun is hot’ (a verifiable fact) and ‘the sun is good’ (a verifiable quality), not because the author says so, but because it is both factually and experientially (insofar as experience is not wholly factual) the case.
Political opinions of course, while having roots deep indeed, aren’t as profound as personal beliefs, sketched below, although even these are still mere opinions; it’s possible to be in one hundred percent agreement about all these things, and yet to have one’s awareness blocked, refused and rejected at the subtlest level.
I need hardly add that reality is infinitely more complex than a couple of tables like this. The ‘yesses’ contains ‘nos’, the ‘nos’ contain ‘yesses’, the ‘yes/nos’ contain all kinds of stuff and the social-groupings down the left contain all manner of exceptions, with some people sitting astride two, three or more.
Anyway, even if you find all this reductive yarbles, let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that the truth is as I’ve presented it above. What hope would it have in the world? None. This is one reason why I am moving away from non-fiction. Better, if you want to speak the truth, to conceal its form.
Peanut Film Reviews 5
A few things I’ve seen over the past year. Anyone who hasn’t read my film reviews should note that these are not supposed to be penetrating socio-psychological (much less ‘filmic’) analyses. Just a few capsule judgements and a few related asides.
Vivarium. Not very good as a story — quite disappointing — but excellent as a straightforward allegory. Spoiler An image of middle-cass suburban life that is precise in almost every detail. A couple live in an endlessly replicating, smellless, tasteless, permanently surveilled, living-unit to which supplies mysteriously appear in brown boxes including an alien child that they are forced to raise. The ‘child’ does nothing but imitate them and watch horrific virtual imagery, the ‘father’ gets some solace from digging a hole that goes nowhere and the ‘mother’ gets some solace from feeding the alien. Eventually the father dies of exhaustion, the mother dies of loneliness and the alien gets a job as an estate agent.
Swept Away. Story of a wealthy capitalist woman who is shipwrecked with a poor communist deckhand who turns her into his love slave. Essentially a flamboyant, modern, Taming of the Shrew. Definitely one for feminists; after watching it my wife started kissing my hand and calling me ‘master’. Funny to reflect, after you’ve watched a woman’s emotional self get broken by a man (at least on the island; an intelligent ending brings fascinating balance), that it was written and directed by a woman, although most men would have struggled to write such a subtle finale.
Dark. In the first season of this series a time-machine is discovered. It’s a beautiful retro object of stupendous complexity which doesn’t function by any means that can possibly — or impossibly — be made sense of; neither science nor magic are invoked to explain how it works. It’s a fitting symbol for a series which looks gorgeous but is comprised of interchangable parts (i.e. the characters) which operate through hours of outrageously complex plotifying. As with all stories in which character parts are entirely subservient to the plot-mechanism, they are almost indistinguishable from each other — only the fact that they are played by different actors makes it clear that someone different is speaking or acting — and are swapped out or modified to service the plot; goodies becoming evil for the unlikeliest reasons and vice versa.
So indistinguishable are the numerous parts, and so convoluted their interactions, that the series has to regularly stop and explain it all to us with diagrams assembled by characters who are forced to give speeches of leaden exposition — which amount to ‘the reason this is happening is because it is incredibly important that this is happening’ — to make themselves understood. The final episode is entirely exposition, ending with a final deus-ex-machina ‘twist’ which makes it clear that, after thirty hours of entering the magic cave, exiting the magic cave, entering the magic bunker, going through the big black magic ball, coming back again, over and over and over again, nothing actually mattered! Cool graphics, cool time-travel, cool alternative reality, tasteful colour palette, Goethe quotes and the technical pleasure of having worked out what the Dickens is happening mask the lack of actual drama, or meaning, or art.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things. So was I an hour in. Somehow I got tricked into enduring the rest, even though after asking ten or so times ‘why is that happening?’ I had started to suspect that the author did not know. Filling the screen with symbolic events the only purpose of which is to ‘mean something’ (rather than having an intrinsic purpose in the story) is the acme of artistic self-pleasuring. Kaufman can only get away with this shallow excrement by using first rate actors. The pleasure of watching Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Colette and David Thewlis is a kind of arty-farty CGI. You ooh-wow your way through half an hour of charismatic gravitas before you realise that it was all for naught.
I recently started (and very soon finished) watching The Green Knight, which is, if such a thing is possible, even worse than I’m Thinking of Ending Things. In The Green Knight, the absence of meaning is masked by actual CGI and ‘symbolism’, which is the hollow man’s metaphor. A true artist metaphorically represents life, so that the common quality of both is immediately experienced. A second-rate artist displays superficially titillating symbols and let you work out what they mean. The difference is similar to that between a brilliant joke which you laugh at and a clever joke with you rub you chin to, nod and go ‘oooh I see’.
A lot of people are, alas, fooled by all of this. In time, they learn to see through the illusion because empty symbolism is always ‘of its time’ — time being, essentially, symbolic. When time moves on, we look back on the art that fooled us and feel foolish.
Novecento (aka 1900) Story about the rise of fascism in Italy before WW2. Not sure how accurate it is, but if it is accurate then: 1. People don’t oppose the rise of a totalitarian state because ‘they don’t want the bother’. 2. People will put up with the most horrendous conditions for a LONG time, without revolting 3. Depression-era peasants in Italy had bigger houses than I do. 4. Donald Sutherland’s blackshirt foreman, ‘Atilla’ is one of the most evil characters I’ve ever seen on film. Apparently Sutherland couldn’t bear to watch the film for for ten years for this reason. 5. Half of the reviews of this film I can find online pan it for ‘melodrama’ and the like. This seems to often be the case with films that show wealthy people as they really are; because, I suppose, so many critics are wealthy. They cannot object to depictions of their horrific iniquity on factual grounds, and so find them stylistically objectionable.
As an aside, the same week I was watching Novecento (it was nearly six hours long, so had to be taken in sections) I was also teaching a group of wealthy young people, and we had a class on moral dilemmas. I asked them ‘would you steal an apple from a supermarket if you were hungry?’ They all said no. ‘What about if you were starving, and it was from an Amazon supermarket?’ Still no. Then I asked, ‘Okay, what if there was a robber who stole a large sum from a bank and you knew who it was, but that he was going to give it all to an African orphanage, saving perhaps tens of thousands of children, giving them a life, etc.’ They ALL said they would report the man. Why? Because the money doesn’t belong to the man, the apple doesn’t belong to me. Honestly, these people! They live, almost literally, in a virtual reality, where concepts — in this case THE LAW — are on the same level as life, as actual life. Trying to explain to them what life is, is like trying to explain, I dunno, the history of Europe to a snail.
Dr. Akagi. Chaotic, sweaty, somewhat random, bizarre, bloody, sexy, farcical, character study, by the late, great Shōhei Imamura (he of Profound Desires of the Gods, one of the greatest films of all time), set in Okayama, Japan, not far from where I used to live, at the end of the second world war. Strangely inconclusive plot, strangely bitty — although this, apparently, was because he was forced to cut three hours down to two — but marvellously entertaining in just about every scene, something that no book on ‘how to write a book’ ever teaches. It’s so easy to write a good plot — it only really requires a good mind — whereas writing a good scene, requires your whole life. This is why there are so few great novelists under the age of 35.
The Father. When a movie begins by showing sympathetic characters in a massive expensive London flat you know you’re almost certainly about to watch artistic lies, and so it is here. No drama, no interesting characters, rather a kind of Disneyland experience of dementia, an oooh-wow rollercoaster (kind of like 1917 or Gravity). It would have been okay if Anthony Hopkins turned out to be sane and it was all a science fiction experiment, but no, just the weird misery of middle-class madness. Easy to do also. A challenge would have been to show joyous dementia, happy madness.
Ammonite. Ammonite takes the story of Mary Anning, a female paleontologist whose work was exploited while she was alive in order to entertain middle-class people in London; and then turns that story into a beautifully-shot porn movie about two lesbians, removing all the of the interesting details about her life, in order to entertain middle-class people in London. At the end of the film, which I was watching with my mum and my wife, I said, ‘that was beautiful’, and they both burst into laughter. It is supposed to be beautiful of course, and if your idea of beauty is a series of nicely shot images of the Cornish countryside, period costumes, old cottages and five minutes of Saoirse Ronan’s smooth young round bottom grinding up and down on Kate Winslet’s face while Winslet’s large breasts heave beneath her, then you’re in luck. Me? I like stories — you know, interesting things happening to vivid people — but I’m old fashioned that way.
There is no evidence incidentally that Anning had a sexual relationship with anyone, let alone two lesbian relationships. Apparently, as Anning’s distant niece pointed out, being poor, uneducated and a woman wasn’t drama enough. The director said ‘I knew I wanted to give her a relationship that felt worthy of her.’ Got that? A heterosexual relationship with a man — or even no relationship at all — wasn’t ‘worthy of her.’
The other peanut film reviews are in these posts.