Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Disturbia (2007)


This turned up a few days ago on Netflix and we were presently surprised to find that it was not one of those movies we had completely forgotten that we'd seen before because we're like, old.(How frustrated I used to get with my father when he could apparently watch a James Bond movie for probably the third time as if almost completely new to it. Like sensitivity to caffeine, I guess this is one of those stages we all kin of get to in the end.)

Blue Velvet it isn't, but it's a fun portrayal of sinister misconduct in the California burbs.
Key points...

Prior to this there was no previous appearance of Shia LaBoeuf which didn't set me thinking 'how the hell is this guy a movie star?', so it was striking just how charismatic a lead he was here.
Carrie Anne-Moss was more than a 'one hit wonder'. Who knew?
This film is dated by a couple of things, but most obviously by its tech, right on the cusp of the pre-smartphone era, which makes it especially interesting from a cultural perspective.
It also feels a generation old by virtue of the way the 'love interest' is deployed and the archetypes she has to conform to. I was reminded of a movie I saw in Boca with my aunt and uncle back in 1985, The Sure Thing, starring world-leading antisemitic twat John Cusack, where the tropes of the white male adolescent fantasy girl were even more in-yer-face. 
In Distopia we were possibly at a transition point, which is particularly interesting given the debate surrounding the role of Zendaya in Challengers and what we might have lost as well as gained since in terms of genuine, gender-balanced 'sexiness'. 
One of the most charming aspects of this movie is the way there is no real mystery to be solved because the psycho isn't taking even the most basic precautions to cover his tracks. I thought David Morse was also really good here and wondered why he's remained relatively low key for the past 17 years.

Challengers (2024)

This week Novax Dojovic has accepted a wild card to play in a comparatively minor tournament ahead of Roland Garros, presumably in the hope that he will learn how to win again on time for the upcoming Slam. He might even have had a potentially second round re-encounter with Andy Murray had not the latter contrived to lose in his opening match.

So, life imitates art, just a little bit, though there's no hint of any ménage à trois in the coverage I have seen. 

Maybe the problem I had with Challengers (beyond knowing a bit too much about professional tennis) is encapsulated by this image, which reminded me immediately of Alfonso Cuarón's Y Tu Mamá También, along with the fact that it handles a similar situation so much better. 


Zendaya, fresh from being the best thing in Dune Part II overcompensates a bit by being the 'meh' of Guadagnino's movie. 

Part of the problem is that the natural tendency of her features to resolve at rest into a kind of grimace (cara de huelepedo as they might say around here), really rather ideal for her role on Arrakis, is less appealing here as the aura of a supposedly universal love object. 

She convinces most as the younger, on court, ball-bashing version of Tashi, but far less so I think as the thirty-something 'MILF' of the more contemporary scenes.



That said, I didn't find any of them believable as players and at each of the key moments of their relationships something seemed to have gone missing in what was otherwise a heady mix. 

It's possible that Zendaya has been comparatively let down by the dialogue, scripted by Justin Kuritzkes, the real life version of the husband in Celine Song's Past Lives, that other notable cinematic love triangle of the past twelve months.

She might be movie's poster 'star', but I was left with the impression that both the writer and the director were more interested in the two boys. Again contrast Cuarón's classic in which Luisa's withheld inner torment is very much part of the trio-dynamic. Here Tashi's injury comes after the bond has formed and the story is really about as interested in the psychological impact of it as it is in her status as a working mother.


Friday, May 17, 2024

Big Lies

Big Lies. When I was growing up it seemed obvious that it was 'the other lot', the people trapped within authoritarian, ideologically oversaturated, basically insane societies that had to negotiate their way around these.

And yet when I made my first trips behind the Iron Curtain (never to North Korea to be sure) what I actually came across was more like ossified misinformation and people who seemed to both simultaneously believe and disbelieve depending on circumstances and things like fear and chauvinistic impulses. 

Today when I look at the leading exponents of the illiberal way, like China for example, I see extreme spin, propaganda, enveloping the actions and intentions of the CCP, but otherwise a practical and basically rational approach to most matters. 
In contrast it is the soup of US life that has become overloaded with the dumplings of untruth. Biden stole the 2020 election, Israel is committing genocide, Pizzagate, an individual who went through puberty as a male is a woman if he says so etc.

Big lies all of them, but don't waste your time arguing with the people that insist on believing them. These and others could each be debunked using a short memo, let alone an essay, but that's not the point. Believing them and helping to propagate them have become badges of belonging, functioning much like the Big Lies of religion. 

You will never talk any of their champions out of them, for their lives have come to depend upon them, and this is true even of the associated massed ranks of individuals whose credence is based more on personal and professional convenience.

I came across nothing similar in the USSR. perhaps because the religious mentality had been suppressed there for decades.

Anyway, I am increasingly wondering whether the Big Lies are the real problem. If you don't believe them, you're fine, right? Except you may not be, because the Big Lies have been clearing a pathway for a host of smaller, sometimes more state-of-the-art lies and the people pushing these are often individuals who would otherwise seem far more worthy of our trust than someone wearing a MAGA hat or waving a Jihadi flag.

The Big Lies are perhaps a bit like Russia's 'meat-grinder' battalions, softening up defences and locating weaknesses that can be exploited by better-prepared, more sophisticated units later on. Defenders gleefully mow them down and become complacent.

Let us not forget too that 'the other lot' are playing a role in this. They might not be foisting Big Lies on their own populations, but they have clearly seen the value in financing and otherwise promoting the 'grass roots' mendacity that has formed within western democracies.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

A la Grann!

Seems that, following Killers of the Flower Moon, Martin Scorcese is set to make a movie of another David Grann book, The Wager.

It's a great tale from the half century before the USA existed, but it features some of the usual distortions of contemporary American history-telling.

One of the sailors on board the shipwrecked vessel was called John Duck. Grann initially reports him as a free black man. In the latter stages of the book, the author then reports how Duck and two other English sailors are left behind in Patagonia where they are 'rescued' by indigenous locals before making their way up to Buenos Aires, where Duck alone, apparently suffers the terrible, inevitable fate which then stalked his race: kidnapped and sold into slavery.

Except this is NOT what happened. The factual version of Duck's story has been carefully adjusted in line with contemporary expectations in what is becoming a rather familiar way.

Firstly, Duck had an English father and was thus of mixed race, known then as a mulatto. His 'free' status would not have been so unusual.

When he and his comrades were found by the Tehuelches, all three were immediately enslaved by these local indigenes and held as involuntary household servants for a number of years.

At some point the Tehuelches 'redeemed' (i.e. ransomed off) the two white sailors, who eventually made it back to Britain without Duck.

It is uncertain why the Tehuelches held onto Duck, though one of the others later claimed that their 'hosts' felt that Duck, by way of his complexion, was one of them, and this feeling may ultimately have been reciprocated.

This same 'rescued' friend and colleague additionally related that the Tehuelches, who also liked to enslave white women, had provided each of them with a Spanish wife, so it is conceivable that Duck did in some way put down roots with his South American captors.

The two ransomed Englishmen were imprisoned in Buenos Aires for over a year in very tough conditions before being allowed to return home as released POWs, and it is also possible that Duck had consciously decided not to risk Spanish colonial hospitality while the war dragged on inconclusively.

Anyway, nearly all the interesting parts of this story have been carefully suppressed in Grann's book. Duck is depicted as a black man and he is kidnapped and enslaved by white men. That is the kind of historical narrative Americans expect to read nowadays, so that is the history they have been given, because it feels like it ought to be true, even if it isn't.

Such are many American 'facts' today: fabrications which identify as virtuous; improvements on truth. This comes as second nature to Hollywood of course, but 'journalists'?

I think what bothers me most here is the notion that Grann had read the first hand accounts, but in spite of / because of his status as a staff writer for the New Yorker, felt comfortable with reporting another version of the story that was only indirectly rooted in reality.

We tend to blame social media for placing us in silos, for a breakdown in manners and so on, and there is truth in that, but there is also a worrying trend within traditional media, which has spread out of the USA, the end result of which is that much of what passes for contemporary political debate is little more than a set of interlocking arguments over narrative treatments.

Growing up I came across many historians whose interpretative output was coloured by their backgrounds and political biases, but this overt promotion (and acceptance) of known falsehoods within academia — as well as the various kinds of public media we are still liable to trust — has clearly metastasized within our intellectual culture.

Leo doesn't seem like a natural fit for any of the key protagonists. The gunner John Bulkeley perhaps.

Friday, May 10, 2024

Ant-Zionism is not a safe space...

Many of those who insist that Anti-Zionism isn't antisemitism genuinely appear to be convinced that it isn't.

Should we believe them? After all, we don't tend to believe white people who insist that they are not racist any more, even though in the main they do seem to understand what racism is, or at least used to be.

A majority of Anti-Zionists on the other hand don't seem to grasp what antisemitism is at all. They seem to think it's a less important and possibly unnecessary sub-prejudice within racism, a misdemeanour version of the offence, so to speak, which they feel has to be primarily about skin pigmentation and relative oppression (at the hands of Europeans).

It's not. It is the symbolic attribution of blame on the Jews and Jewishness for the worst evil your own codified worldview has been able to come up with. At base scapegoating, but often something that becomes far worse as it veers away from the facts.

This is why Jews have been Christ-killers, pitiless capitalists, unrooted cosmopolitans living beyond nationalist sentiment, polluters of the Aryan line and now, racist colonialists, perhaps even Nazis — surely the most historically-libelous form of antisemitism yet conceived.

Each time the sin attributed to Jews is different, and so too is each strain of antisemitism, but these distinctions don't somehow invalidate the charge. 

Your antisemitism might not be the same as previous variants of the mental pathogen, but it belongs to the same lineage. Projecting onto Jews the antithesis of your own ideal is always going to be antisemitic, and the more fanatical this creed, the more likely that your antisemitism will be both irrational and vile.

Religious Colonisers

One of the many absurdities behind the new form of antisemitism which goes by the name of Anti-Zionism and tags the Jews as imperialists, colonisers and racists is that of the three monotheisms that emerged out of the Middle East, Judaism is, according to any sensible reading of the matter, the least inherently imperialist.

Islam is the extreme case in fact, with global conquest baked in as a core objective from the start.It’s properly codified into the scripture.

Next most imperialist is the eastern Orthodox form of Christianity, particularly in the Russian flavour. This is because in the contemporary world it represents a near unbroken tradition where the Emperor and the Patriarch have acted in tandem: the result a near theocratic form of statehood which has tended to be authoritarian domestically and often highly expansionist beyond its borders.Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill are its most recent exponents.

Western Christianity is more of a mish mash. Oddly enough one still hears rather naïve people claiming that Christianity is the Sermon on the Mount, as if none of the rest of the stuff which accreted onto that organically afterwards really counts.

Adoption by the Roman Empire was a solid start for any religion with imperialist ambitions, but in the West at least, secular authority soon started to disintegrate.The Popes attempted to refashion the dominant secular power to suit themselves with the so-called Holy Roman Empire, but this ultimately led to conflict, German disunity and a whole later, far more toxic forms of imperialism.

The rather self-serving way the Arabs tell it today, the Crusades were the first serious example of European ‘white settler colonialism’ that they had to endure. 

At their inception though, things were far more complicated. The leaders of the early Crusades, the Normans, were colonisers because they were basically Vikings, not because they were fanatical Christians, and on arrival in the Med they started to promote sophisticated societies where all three monotheistic faiths were tolerated and enjoyed a measure of equality.

And outside of Franco-Norman acquisitiveness, the basic urge behind the Crusade was to re-establish Christian control of an area between Syria and Libya which had been overrun by Islamic hordes, with the re-taking of Jerusalem itself seen as the bare minimum. So, a counter-strike rather than an opportunistic invasion for profit.

By the conclusion of the Reconquista, the Spanish version of Catholicism had undoubtedly incorporated something of an explicit global territorial mission, but there nevertheless always remained a defensive component to this. Iberian navigators headed west in part because they believed they would be able to to locate and collaborate with pre-existing Christian societies in ‘the Indies’, which might offer the possibility of outflanking aggressive Islam, which at that time once again threatened to overrun Western Europe via the Balkan route.

There was always an inherent tension between church and state in the western form of Christianity and this would be transplanted to the New World. Christianity may be have evolved to become more than the message on the mount, but dig hard enough and it is there, as is the persona of the Messiah as a non-violent, redistributive, Jewish, anti-imperial radical.

Past Lives (2023)


I came to Past Lives with possibly more positive expectations than I have for any film of the past few years. I ended up spending much of its running time mentally untangling the action from my somewhat thwarted anticipations, though that is not to say I was struggling with disappointment. 

I suppose I had been counting on something a bit more like early Kieślowski, with potent pauses, intrusions of the uncanny and so on. Maybe the title had suggested that to me. What it turned out to be was a story which took me back to my own brief platonic re-encounters with my first love, three years and then eight years after we first met.
It’s now clear that the semi-autobiographical nature of the material led Celine Song, by necessity, to go light with the metaphysical ostentation. We do however get this line: “It’s an in-yun if two strangers even walk by each other on the street and their clothes accidentally brush. It means there must be something between them in their past lives” — which echoes a narrative conceit that I have lately been toying with: a tension between what one consciously knows about people and places and a more shrouded, yet insistently protrusive form of knowledge, lurking below. 
There are some striking insights here into the drives which underlie changes of continent, from both the perspective of grown-ups and then the growing-ups with transplanted ambitions. Nora’s observation that the apparition of Hae Sung in New York made her feel simultaneously more and less Korean was a gem.
Visually, Song’s debut as a film-maker is a proper treat. Her camera work and shot composition hardly ever falls short of fascinating. And no matter what is happening on screen from a dramatical perspective, she seems to have considered ways to frame each scene in a way which makes it inherently more interesting. My favourite was one where soon-to-be-Nora’s parents are seen in a shambolic shared study area, smoking, and keep the kids in the doorway as they discuss their new anglicised monikers. 

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

The longer term losers…

Antisemitism has tended to function differently to other forms of cultural-ethnic prejudice. 

The Jewish experience has been, throughout history, one of being symbolically tagged as core antipodal antagonists to a dominant or at least over-confident/intolerant ideology. 

In the Middle Ages, they were often treated as Christ killers. To Marxist-Leninists, Jews had to be vilified as the most unrepentant of capitalists, to the Nazis, as polluters of the blood etc. 

Nowadays within the over-confident/intolerant sectors of Wokeness they are, naturally, privileged, white, colonial racists — fabricators of an ‘apartheid’ society based on a fascist ideology. This has permitted a contemporary update of the Blood Libel, with resonances of irony, gracelessly applied. 

This new slur might seem easy enough to dismiss as absurd, ignorant, propagandistic, plain dumb etc. Yet it is profoundly antisemitic as well, because it closely fits the pattern of vile demonisation which has proved so deadly for many generations of Jews across the ages. 

And yet, in spite of the emotional pain many Jews feel as a consequence of this renewed wave of targeted symbolic abuse (History is comparably poor at recording largely emotional calamities), combined with attacks on their shared cultural identity under the guise of ‘Anti-Zionism’, my suspicion is that in the West at least, the intolerance and violent rhetoric of the Left is little more than a posture and that most individuals of this disposition would  🐔 out before visiting actual violence on a minority. 

And when they do 🐔 out, they will leave their strange bedfellows, the unassimilated, ‘political’ Muslims, high and dry and exposed to a predictable and probably very nasty backlash from the Far Right. Nasty for them, nasty for everyone in truth. 

Right now, through vocal, antisemitic support for fanatical Islamists in the Middle East, many of these Mohammedans of predominantly non-Middle Eastern descent are being duped into thinking by their Leftist poseur-enablers that their hostility to liberal values is some kind of laudable virtue. Some will be dreaming, delusionally, that pro-pal militancy will be like a gateway drug to the complete package of anti-western hallucinogens. 

In the past the chosen bullying targets of the Far Right have all tended to be ‘innocent victims’, as any decent person would understand the situation, but this time the goose-steppers may find they have a defined set of adversaries who blithely and foolishly contribute to their own dangerous othering by way of their characteristic over-confident/intolerant discourse.

Thursday, May 02, 2024

An old character is revived...

Marchers for Palestine in London bearing a big banner sporting the mug of Joe Stalin: a reminder, if we needed one, that the terms of this mocked up, make-believe confrontation with imperialism were laid down in an era of sly Soviet propaganda. 


Left wing extremists and right wing extremists have slightly different ways of getting their message to the mainstream. The right, knowing its core demographics, either comes out and says exactly what it means, or dog whistles a ‘low alcohol’ version to its older adherents who think it, but won’t say it, at least not in public.

Something similar occurs on the left on a lower setting, but what really gets them on the move is a Trojan Horse issue. In my teens this was nuclear disarmament. Today it is ‘Palestine’. These mobs carry symbolic identifiers up front pertaining to the ‘big issue’, but zoom in a bit into the peloton and you will find the iconography of violence and revolution, often in greater density. In the midst of the CND marches of my youth, it was always the blood red banners of the Trots that stood out for me.

In 1984, appropriately, I made my first couple of journeys behind the Iron Curtain. Outside of a visit to a group of ‘Young Pioneers’ in Moscow, the most striking signs of radicalisation I came across that year were on the western side of that supposed ideological border, in Italy, as I prepared to venture into Yugoslavia and then Hungary. Italian cities then appeared polarised between well organised groups of left and right extremists. Banners everywhere. This was just after an extended period when political kidnappings and murders had been commonplace.

What tended to strike young Brits then was how something which was high viz on the continent — though more marginal on our own island — was conspicuous in its absence in the US. A year later I came across a small shop in Manhattan selling socialist insignia, and this felt about as mainstream as a Soho sex shop.

The country which had denied Graham Greene a visa because he had joined the Communist Party at Oxford for a laugh, had seemingly smothered its own seditious sparks for good.

Perhaps ‘Palestine’, has become the ultimate enabling issue for a new generation of American radicals. This may not actually be good news for some of the causes which were being trialled prior to October 7 last year, as this one may burn up a lot of their oxygen as it flares.

The trick seems to have been renaming revolution in the language of the oppressed other: intifada. That way it enjoys the protections offered by the doctrines of diversity, which even the educated metropolitan elites of the centre tend to experience as a form of inviolable orthodoxy.

Unlike the Trojan Horses of old this one comes with a face. This belongs to a minority that it has always been legitimate to associate with a privileged relationship with the hated 'system', domestically and internationally. A minority persistently perceived to be over-represented within the elites of wealth and power, and thus available for more or less open resentment and execration. Just call them 'Zionists', if you still need to keep your right-on conscience clear.

Transgender ideology has had embodied enemies too, but the most vociferous of these tended to be scientists and feminists, often card-carrying radicals too, and so less straightforwardly easy to vilify without some damaging blow back or internecine strife. And in that context, the middle ground could not be relied upon to stick its head in the sand to the same extent.

Wednesday, May 01, 2024



That's a great quotation, because of the innate tension in it. i.e. Is he saying that we are still right to try to learn from history, or rather that it's all a bit of a wasted effort?

The superficially valid notion that history continues because of our consistent failure to 'read' the codified lessons that it contains has become a rather persistent, 'viral', misapprehension in modern culture. 
It's kind of bound up with the western liberal fantasy that history might somehow be rationalised away, like pretty much everything else we find disagreeable. This fallacy peaked with Fukuyama's "end of history" proclamation at the end of the Cold War.

What the dogged rationalists don't want to admit is that history is at least partially a set of recurring patterns which happen to us whether we like it or not. Like its constituent human agents themselves, it has a sort of innate 'biological' truth which cannot be imagined away.

I think historians of earlier periods understand this a little better than their modern-specialising equivalents. The first 500 years or so AD saw the formation of some of the key patterns which now affect everyone. In simple terms, the geopolitics of today are still driven by the impulses that drove the political-religious conflicts of that period: Catholic Rome, Orthodox Byzantium, Islamic Baghdad. This kind of history is not a class where it matters much whether one attends or skips. It's deep and informs the 'subconscious' of civilisations.