Sunday, July 31, 2005
Doll City (adj): Physically attractive in a standard-issue way. "Those Hemingway chicks with the Brezhnev brows are Doll City. I'll freeze."
Gettin' the mohawk (verb form): Building up irritation to a major level, causing one's hackles to rise. "There was nothing on at seven except for Family Feud. I was gettin' the mohawk."
I'll freeze, Bill (phrase): A polite turndown. "Thanks for inviting me to that Pia Zadora flick, but I'll freeze, Bill." (From The Price Is Right TV game show, per Tom Vickers)
Motel Hell (adj.): Characteristic of a bad place to stay, as in a souring love affair or dead-end job. "Man, I'm quitting; the gig is Motel Hell."
Shovel City (adj.): Deeply dug, much appreciated. "You enjoying the music?" "It's too much: Shovel City."
(to) swing like sixty (verb): To perform at peak, to freak freely or wail radically. "That girl's the cleanest when it comes to threads. The dress she wore last night swung like sixty."
Swiss (adj.): Neutral. Having no opinion or preference. From Vickers (1980-82): "1 don't care where we go tonight. Dinner? Flicks? I'm totally Swiss."
Wall Street didn't jump (descriptive phrase): Indicating an action which fails to draw the anticipated reaction; creating no ripples on the pond. "He told the finance company he'd be inheriting a million bucks in six months. Wall Street didn't jump."
in Wig City (descriptive phrase): Caught in the township of the flipped, just outside sanity and peopled by mad daddies and moms.
How To Speak Hip
Beethoven's reaction after sitting through the opening night of Ferdinando Paer's Achille:
I liked your opera, Ferdinando. I'm thinking of setting it to music.
Ironically enough he did just that. The Funeral March from Achille turned up some years later, in skillfully disguised form, as The Funeral March of Eroica.
As Lionel Trilling once remarked:
Immature artists imitate. Mature artists steal.
The American artist James McNeill Whistler, who at the time was President of the Royal Society of British Artists, was engaged in a battle of wits with Oscar Wilde. After one of Whistler's particularly corruscating remarks, Wilde is alleged to have said:
Well, Mr. President, I should have liked to have said that myself,
to which the American instantly replied:
You will, Oscar, you will.
Saturday, July 30, 2005
Abel Ferrara’s King of New York begins as penitentiary-tanned Frank White (Christopher Walken) is decanted from prison cell back to his natural domain: nocturnal New York. Walken as White is Nosferatu: cadaverous countenance, cryogenically cool. Languid but lethal; eerily elegant, Frank White takes up residence, as befits his regal status, in a salubrious suite at the Plaza Hotel and surveys his empire. As he gazes outwards the Manhattan skyline is reflected back onto the window of the Plaza penthouse, almost obscuring his dead eyes, alien features and lethal, curtailed smile. His prison crop is revitalised: an electrified Don King eruption. His black Armani suit is as sharp as his features: Walken owns The Charisma Franchise.
In the following scene his crew (Jimmy Jump ~ Larry Fishburne, Lance ~ Giancarlo Esposito, Test Tube ~ Steve Buscemi et alia) arrive to pay homage to their King. Walken, unvisited during his long incarceration, mimes resentment then subverts it with a showman's dance of rapprochement and resurrection. A truly unexpected, extemporaneous, unscripted moment. Count Dracula meets Gene Kelly.
As the scene begins Jump and White eye eachother uneasily. Jump plays with a polystyrene cup; the tension is palpable.
Frank White: What’s in the cup?
Jimmy Jump: Root beer. You want some?
Frank White: There are some things I don’t do…..(dead eyes flash, a sly wink)..bop, bop, wooaah!
(Walken dances like only Walken can. Frank White is back).
Jimmy Jump: Yo, congratulations, Frank. Congratulations, man. The Columbian motherfuckers, they took permanent vacation in hell, if you know what I mean.
Frank White: Well, I must've been away too long because my feelings are dead. I feel no remorse. It’s a terrible thing. (a lethal smile ghosts across his features and vanishes).
Jimmy Jump: Yeah, I heard that being in jail makes you feel like that, man.
I got a present for you. Check it out (hands Frank a pair of gloves).
They were King Tito’s…but he don’t need them where he is now (laughs).
Yeah, I thought you might want to donate them to a clothing drive or something (laughs).
Frank White: You having a good time, eh Jim?
Jimmy Jump: Hey, man, I’ve been waiting years for this.
Lance: Emilio Zapa sends his regards (flips open an attaché case and holds up bundles of notes).
Frank White: (Gasps) Ow, Ooww! You know how I love money! …. Now help yourself (grins).
Frank White: Is the meeting set with Dalesio?
Jimmy Jump: You need to let me bust a cap in that moon-headed motherfucker’s ass, boy!
Jimmy Jump: He's a f*cking glitter-boy; he's looking to get sprayed, laid, played, and slayed, you know what I'm saying?
Frank White: I heard that (laughs).
So, you gonna come downtown and say hello?
Jimmy Jump: You hob-knob with those homos if you want to. I’m going downtown to find me a girl, get my knob polished. Time for some real fun.
Frank White: Jim, ... How come you never came to see me?
Jimmy Jump: Who wanted to see you in a cage, man?
Frank White: (pauses reflectively, a mime of resentment followed by a snaky, slowburning smile)…Of course.
Friday, July 29, 2005
As Peter Biskind observes in his book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, "Star Bucks" heralded the death of the halcyon era of intelligent American Film and ushered in the Age of the Anodyne. It kick-started a trend which took us from The Godfather to Armageddon; from the Scorsese of substance (Raging Bull, Mean Streets et alia) to Scorsese-Lite (Gangs of New York, The Aviator); from Robert Altman to Michael Bay.
Taxi Driver's scriptwriter Paul Schrader lamented:
Star Wars was the film that ate at the heart and the soul of Hollywood. It created the big-budget comic book mentality.Irrespective of it's symbolic significance in the decline of Hollywood, my hatred of Star Wars is purely aesthetic. George Lucas' dialogue sounds like it was written in Aramaic and translated into English by Babel Fish.
It says something about the paucity of Lucas' vision that with an unlimited palette of creative options at his disposal and a vast fictive universe awaiting imaginative construction he chose to centre Episode 1: The Phantom Menace around a tax dispute. In other words, Lucas chose to cork the creative genie back in the bottle, attach a dead weight for insurance and toss it into the Hudson River.
Has there ever been a more dispiriting overture to a movie than the following:
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....
(A vast sea of stars serves as the backdrop for the MAIN TITLE, followed by a ROLL UP, which crawls up into infinity.)
EPISODE 1 THE PHANTOM MENACE
Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlaying star systems is in dispute.
Now call me churlish but even a died-in-the-wool hater of the sexless Star Wars franchise might have expected a little more bang for his buck than this. Somewhere in the multiverse there, most assuredly, exists a parallel universe where Philip K. Dick's oeuvre has been filtered through the "creative" intermediary of a firm of chartered accountants just to impose some much-needed "double-entry discipline" on his disorganised sensibility. Luckily I won't live long enough to visit it.
Suffice to say, wild horses were not available to drag me to Revenge of the Sith. Presumably they were otherwise engaged hauling other unfortunate cinéastes, such as New Yorker reviewer Anthony Lane, to the movie. My reaction to his review: "I'm with that guy!"
Sith. What kind of a word is that? Sith. It sounds to me like the noise that emerges when you block one nostril and blow through the other, but to George Lucas it is a name that trumpets evil. What is proved beyond question by “Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith,” the latest—and, you will be shattered to hear, the last—installment of his sci-fi bonanza, is that Lucas, though his eye may be greedy for sensation, has an ear of purest cloth. All those who concoct imagined worlds must populate and name them, and the resonance of those names is a fairly accurate guide to the mettle of the imagination in question. Tolkien, earthed in Old English, had a head start that led him straight to the flinty perfection of Mordor and Orc. Here, by contrast, are some Lucas inventions: Palpatine. Sidious. Mace Windu. (Isn’t that something you spray on colicky babies?) Bail Organa. And Sith.Star Wars: Episode 111 by Anthony Lane
Lucas was not always a rootless soul. He made “American Graffiti,” which yielded with affection to the gravitational pull of the small town. Since then, he has swung out of orbit, into deep nonsense, and the new film is the apotheosis of that drift. One stab of humor and the whole conceit would pop, but I have a grim feeling that Lucas wishes us to honor the remorseless non-comedy of his galactic conflict, so here goes. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his star pupil, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), are, with the other Jedi knights, defending the Republic against the encroachments of the Sith and their allies—millions of dumb droids, led by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and his henchman, General Grievous, who is best described as a slaying mantis. Meanwhile, the Chancellor of the Republic, Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), is engaged in a sly bout of Realpolitik, suspected by nobody except Anakin, Obi-Wan, and every single person watching the movie. Anakin, too, is a divided figure, wrenched between his Jedi devotion to selfless duty and a lurking hunch that, if he bides his time and trashes his best friends, he may eventually get to wear a funky black mask and start breathing like a horse.
This film is the tale of his temptation. We already know the outcome—Anakin will indeed drop the killer-monk Jedi look and become Darth Vader, the hockey goalkeeper from hell—because it forms the substance of the original “Star Wars.” One of the things that make Episode III so dismal is the time and effort expended on Anakin’s conversion. Early in the story, he enjoys a sprightly light-sabre duel with Count Dooku, which ends with the removal of the Count’s hands. (The stumps glow, like logs on a fire; there is nothing here that reeks of human blood.) Anakin prepares to scissor off the head, while the mutilated Dooku kneels for mercy. A nice setup, with Palpatine egging our hero on from the background. The trouble is that Anakin’s choice of action now will be decisive, and the remaining two hours of the film—scene after scene in which Hayden Christensen has to glower and glare, blazing his conundrum to the skies—will add nothing to the result. “Something’s happening. I’m not the Jedi I should be,” he says. This is especially worrying for his wife, Padmé (Natalie Portman), who is great with child. Correction: with children.
What can you say about a civilization where people zip from one solar system to the next as if they were changing their socks but where a woman fails to register for an ultrasound, and thus to realize that she is carrying twins until she is about to give birth? Mind you, how Padmé got pregnant is anybody’s guess, although I’m prepared to wager that it involved Anakin nipping into a broom closet with a warm glass jar and a copy of Ewok Babes. After all, the Lucasian universe is drained of all reference to bodily functions. Nobody ingests or excretes. Language remains unblue. Smoking and cursing are out of bounds, as is drunkenness, although personally I wouldn’t go near the place without a hip flask. Did Lucas learn nothing from “Alien” and “Blade Runner”—from the suggestion that other times and places might be no less rusted and septic than ours, and that the creation of a disinfected galaxy, where even the storm troopers wear bright-white outfits, looks not so much fantastical as dated? What Lucas has devised, over six movies, is a terrible puritan dream: a morality tale in which both sides are bent on moral cleansing, and where their differences can be assuaged only by a triumphant circus of violence. Judging from the whoops and crowings that greeted the opening credits, this is the only dream we are good for. We get the films we deserve.
The general opinion of “Revenge of the Sith” seems to be that it marks a distinct improvement on the last two episodes, “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones.” True, but only in the same way that dying from natural causes is preferable to crucifixion. So much here is guaranteed to cause either offense or pain, starting with the nineteen-twenties leather football helmet that Natalie Portman suddenly dons for no reason, and rising to the continual horror of Ewan McGregor’s accent. “Another happy landing”—or, to be precise, “anothah heppy lending”—he remarks, as Anakin parks the front half of a burning starcruiser on a convenient airstrip. The young Obi-Wan Kenobi is not, I hasten to add, the most nauseating figure onscreen; nor is R2-D2 or even C-3PO, although I still fail to understand why I should have been expected to waste twenty-five years of my life following the progress of a beeping trash can and a gay, gold-plated Jeeves.
No, the one who gets me is Yoda. May I take the opportunity to enter a brief plea in favor of his extermination? Any educated moviegoer would know what to do, having watched that helpful sequence in “Gremlins” when a small, sage-colored beastie is fed into an electric blender. A fittingly frantic end, I feel, for the faux-pensive stillness on which the Yoda legend has hung. At one point in the new film, he assumes the role of cosmic shrink—squatting opposite Anakin in a noirish room, where the light bleeds sideways through slatted blinds. Anakin keeps having problems with his dark side, in the way that you or I might suffer from tennis elbow, but Yoda, whose reptilian smugness we have been encouraged to mistake for wisdom, has the answer. “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose,” he says. Hold on, Kermit, run that past me one more time. If you ever got laid (admittedly a long shot, unless we can dig you up some undiscerning alien hottie with a name like Jar Jar Gabor), and spawned a brood of Yodettes, are you saying that you’d leave them behind at the first sniff of danger? Also, while we’re here, what’s with the screwy syntax? Deepest mind in the galaxy, apparently, and you still express yourself like a day-tripper with a dog-eared phrase book. “I hope right you are.” Break me a fucking give.
The prize for the least speakable burst of dialogue has, over half a dozen helpings of “Star Wars,” grown into a fiercely contested tradition, but for once the winning entry is clear, shared between Anakin and Padmé for their exchange of endearments at home:
“You’re so beautiful.” “That’s only because I’m so in love.” “No, it’s because I’m so in love with you.”
For a moment, it looks as if they might bat this one back and forth forever, like a baseline rally on a clay court. And if you think the script is on the tacky side, get an eyeful of the décor. All of the interiors in Lucasworld are anthems to clean living, with molded furniture, the tranquillity of a morgue, and none of the clutter and quirkiness that signify the process known as existence. Illumination is provided not by daylight but by a dispiriting plastic sheen, as if Lucas were coating all private affairs—those tricky little threats to his near-fascistic rage for order—in a protective glaze. Only outside does he relax, and what he relaxes into is apocalypse. “Revenge of the Sith” is a zoo of rampant storyboards. Why show a pond when C.G.I. can deliver a lake that gleams to the far horizon? Why set a paltry house on fire when you can stage your final showdown on an entire planet that streams with ruddy, gulping lava? Whether the director is aware of John Martin, the Victorian painter who specialized in the cataclysmic, I cannot say, but he has certainly inherited that grand perversity, mobilized it in every frame of the film, and thus produced what I take to be unique: an art of flawless and irredeemable vulgarity. All movies bear a tint of it, in varying degrees, but it takes a vulgarian genius such as Lucas to create a landscape in which actions can carry vast importance but no discernible meaning, in which style is strangled at birth by design, and in which the intimate and the ironic, not the Sith, are the principal foes to be suppressed. It is a vision at once gargantuan and murderously limited, and the profits that await it are unfit for contemplation. I keep thinking of the rueful Obi-Wan Kenobi, as he surveys the holographic evidence of Anakin’s betrayal. “I can’t watch anymore,” he says. Wise words, Obi-Wan, and I shall carry them in my heart.
The audition scene in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive is masterful; the scene around which the rest of the movie pivots. Up until this point the tale is a mystery wrapped around an enigma of a dull, dualistic kind: either we're experiencing a naive neophyte's fevered dream of the pursuit of Hollywood stardom or we're locked into an embittered loser's hallucinatory idealisation of a past that never was. However we choose to deconstruct the story, the overture's clumsy romanticism is decidedly off-key and Lynch struggles to smuggle his characteristically malevolent medicine into this sickly spoonful of faux-sentimentality. Thus far, Mulholland Drive is a genetically modified silk purse, displaying decidedly unflattering detritus of sow's ear, masquerading as a movie.
The audition scene, however, is truly metamorphic: Mulholland Drive suddenly shifts gear from simple arithmetic to Euclidian geometry. The hick crosses the Styx to Hades and discovers drugs, depravity and death. Characters switch identities and comforting certainties are abandoned in Lynch’s impressionistic, surreal, shape-shifting denouement.
The scene is a subtle deconstruction of the clichéd wannabe/starlet audition scenario. Wally is an avuncular fellow who, as a friend of Betty's aunt, has pulled a few strings to secure her audition. Jimmy is an ageing actor: a predatory lothario with a permatan. Betty turns the cosy, creepy, misogynistic interview set-up on its head with an entirely unexpected injection of real passion (all the more shocking when counter pointed with the lifeless pre-audition rehearsal, which we'd seen her perform earlier with her friend Rita).
The pathos of the scene is provided by the realisation that her "taking control" (adopting the role of femme fatale rather than naive ingénue/victim) is the catalyst for her demise. Catharsis in Lynch's world generally leads to damnation rather salvation.
WALLY: Well then, take a seat everyone. Betty why don't you join Jimmy and we'll play the scene. Is there anything you'd like to say Bob... something to Betty before they begin? (Betty stops on her way across to Jimmy and looks to Bob the director)
BOB: No ... it's not a contest, see, the two of them with themselves, so don't play it for real until it gets real. (Betty doesn't know what to say. She catches Sarah's assistant, Nicki, rolling her eyes)
BETTY: Okay. (Betty continues walking toward Jimmy who opens his arms to her as she approaches. He's old enough to be her father)
JIMMY: Just tell me where it hurts, baby.
JIMMY: I want to play this one close, Bob. Like it was with that girl, what's her name, with the black hair. That felt good. Whaddya think? (Betty looks from Jimmy to Bob)
BOB: That'd be good, Jimmy. Just don't rush that line again. I told you... the line where you say, "Before what?"
JIMMY: I was playin' off 'em. They say, "They'll arrest you"... and stuff like that.. "put you in jail"... they say it like that. They all say it the same way, so I react like that.
(Jimmy turns to Betty)
JIMMY: (cont'd) Look ... what's your name?
JIMMY: Yeah ... Betty. You don't rush it. I don't rush it. We play it close, just like in the movies.
(Jimmy reaches out and puts his arm around Betty and bringsher in against his pot belly)
JIMMY: (cont'd) Dad's best friend goes to work. (Jimmy smiles as he brings Betty a little closer. She is trying to concentrate through the nervousness and Jimmy's breath. There is a silence as Jimmy looks her in the eyes. Everyone in the room is looking Betty in the eyes)
BOB: And ... ACTION!
(Betty and Jimmy start the scene. It is very difficult for Betty as Jimmy has her in an absurd clench now)
BETTY: You're still here?
JIMMY: I came back. I thought that's what you wanted. (Jimmy plays this with a big lecherous smile. He gives the last part of the line across her cheek up to her ear)
BETTY: Nobody wants you here. (Betty uses the anger of this line to push herself away from Jimmy)
(Jimmy reaches out and grabs her wrist)
(Betty pulls her hand away and stands her ground)
BETTY: My parents are right upstairs! They think you've left.
(Jimmy smiles broadly and moves again toward Betty)
JIMMY: So ... surprise!
(Betty pushes him back)
BETTY: I can call them... I can call my dad.
JIMMY: But you won't.
(He grabs Betty by the wrist again and pulls her in to him. He puts his hand on her waist and it accidently slips and keeps going down her hips. He jerks his hand back. Bettylooks down and sees Jimmy's hand hovering above her thigh. Betty takes her hand and gently presses down on Jimmy's hand. She slowly looks up with the most seductive smile. Jimmy lets his hand rest more firmly on her thigh, and squeezes her thigh as he sees her smile. With his other hand Jimmy gently pulls her closer)
(Something has started coming over Betty and she catches the drift of this scene in a different way. She's surprising herself)
BETTY: (almost a hot whisper) You're playing a dangerous game here. If you're trying to blackmail me... it's not going to work.
(Jimmy now surprises himself. He becomes almost tender and genuinely worked up from the heat coming off Betty)
JIMMY: You know what I want...it's not that difficult.
(Where the scene should turn to anger from Betty it can't now and Betty plays it as she feels it. She stays in very close to Jimmy - looking him right in the eyes)
BETTY: (whispering desperately - slowly) Get out... Get out before I call my dad. He trusts you... you're his best friend. (her arms go around him) This will be the end of everything.
(Jimmy gets lost. He doesn't know where he is anymore. He can only see Betty's eyes)
JIMMY: What about you? What will your dad think about you?
(Betty still playing it in a dreamy whisper... lost in heat)
BETTY: Stop... just stop! That's what you said from the beginning. If I tell what happened... they'll arrest you and put you in jail, so get out of here before...
JIMMY: (caught by her transfixing, sultry eyes, and almost breathless ... he finds himself taking an extra long pause) Before what?
(As scripted Betty pretends to pull the knife from behind herback, but wraps the knife around behind Jimmy and pulls him into a kiss)
BETTY: (as she kisses him - whispers) Before I kill you.
(Jimmy panics and pushes Betty away with his hands on her shoulders as if forcing himself to come out of a trance. He finally is able to say his line)
JIMMY: Then they'd put you in jail.
(As scripted Betty is supposed to cry now and it is very easy for her to do this because she's ashamed at how the sex of the scene took her over. Tears begin running down her cheeks. She backs away)
BETTY: I hate you... I hate us both!
(She pretends to drop the knife. The scene ends. Everyone in the room has become mesmerized by Betty, but they soon drift back to reality and begin applauding theperformance. Sarah turns to Nicki)
SARAH JAMES: I'm going to take her over there.
NICKI: Big time!
WALLY: (to everyone) Wow!
(Betty wipes her eyes and turns smiling - still shocked at herself)
BETTY: Well, there it was.
JIMMY: There it was it was! Baby, you got a way!
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
I'm the Anti-Christ. You got me in a vendetta kind of mood, you will tell the angels in heaven that you have never seen pure evil so singularly personified as you did in the face of the man who killed you ~ Vincenzo Coccotti ~ True Romance
The true man wants two things: danger and play. For that reason he wants woman, as the most dangerous plaything ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Champagne for my real friends, and real pain for my sham friends ~ Monty Brogan ~ 25th Hour
Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words ~ Dorothy Parker
Memory is a dangerous function. It retrospectively gives meaning to that which did not have any. It retrospectively cancels out the internal illusoriness of events, which was their originality. But if events retained their original, enigmatic form, their ambiguous, terrifying form, there would doubtless no longer be any history ~ Jean Baudrillard
In the east ... the far east... when a person is sentenced to death... they're sent to a place where they can't escape... never knowing when an executioner will step up behind them and fire a bullet into the back of their head... it could be days... weeks... or even years after the death sentence has been pronounced... This uncertainty adds an exquisite element of torture to the situation, don't you think? It's been a pleasure talking to you ~ Mystery Man ~ Lost Highway
Warm-up man Sammy T's up on stage applying a little heat to the crowd right now. Sturdy frame, easy laugh, Sam used to open for Tony Bennett on Broadway but now he's Frank's right hand man. He's still got that Big Apple bite though, walkin' the walk, talkin' that street talk:
Nice to see so many Chicago cats on vacation gathered round our little watering hole down here in the desert. Who you got mindin' the shop boys? Or did you just leave the keys with the next door neighbour? Did I say vacation? Who am I kiddin? These Windy City boys are always workin'. They've always got an angle. Must think there's moolah in these sand dunes. Sorry to break it to you boys but they're ain't nothin down here but us camels. Still what do I know? I grew up riding the subway, running with people, up in Harlem, down on Broadway. They used to call me the heart and soul of New York City. Now I'm surfin' on that Reno vibe. I'm in a Nevada State of mind.
Sam's inviting Frank up on stage. The crowd are on their feet.
And now, ladies and gentlemen please welcome to the stage "Mr. Variety" himself, Fraaaank Sinaaatraa.
Anticipation courses through the auditorium.
Flash forward a few years and Basie's workin' the room into a frenzy at The Sands and the band's just struck up Sinatra's signature tune but, for now, a band of session musos and a crowd of wannabe wiseguys will work just fine.
Frank knows the value of this moment. He teases the crowd for a delicious minute, maybe more. Makin' like he's not gonna bother to show up on stage tonight. He knows they're gonna shoot their load when they see that curtain ripple so he decides to hold them right there on the edge for a while. That place where expectation of imminent gratification merges slowly but seamlessly into panic . He lights up a Lucky backstage and slowly inhales the heady mixture of nicotine and hysteria. This audience ain't goin' nowhere, the band's locked tight into an imperial overture. It's his room and he calls the shots.
The first time Frank got up there, under these lights, in front of a crowd, he froze. He sprayed a few one-liners around the room quickfire, finished with a couple of verses of Fly Me To The Moon and got the f*** outta there. He sure as hell wasn't going to stick around to examine the wreckage. Now it's easy.
At last he strolls up on stage and the applause is all over him like Vesuvius over Pompeii. A sly smile, a conspiratorial wink, a slow, cool drag on the cancer stick and he's off.
Frank takes aim and fires:
I guess you folks didn't bargain on a profound thinker but here he comes, movin' to the beat, speakin' in tongues. We're talkin' crease-resistant human art, buddy. Tainted and forever breathing.
The snare drum cracks and echoes like a bullet flying around an oil drum, merging into the epileptic artillery fire of a few hundred hands clapping. He's already got them eating out of the palm of his hand like monkees at the zoo. He throws them another couple of peanuts:
My sweetheart don't care much for postmodernism. She's got love on her mind. My baby likes to get physical all the time. I tell ya doc, it's livin' hell being married to a woman with no capacity for abstract thought.
A faint tickle of ivory, a sharp rim shot and a casual segue from philosophical to political. Patriotic and topical, he's got all the bases covered but he can't stop hittin' home runs:
They're rapping for Jesus now. Straight outta Utah. Preachas with Attitude. Educated brothers with sharp suits. From the moral precipice they're here to stop you fallin'. Kickin' knowledge for dollar bills is their callin'. So give it up smooth. A few more dead presidents and they'll break into a dance groove. Spreadin' the Word sure turned out to be a good career move.
Frank's workin' these suckers like a hooker works a lovesick john. He teases them, insults them, leads them on a little but never lets them get too close, never shows them too much. When it's over he'll wish them goodnight and count the money. He knows they'll be back next week for more. Frank's strictly business.
Hey Frank, give us a song!, one of the johns cries with delight.
What's your hurry, Joe? Your girlfriend got school in the morning?
But Frank's just teasing and he's gonna get there soon enough. And when, at last, he sings, the sultan of swing starts nice and soft like a shy sophomore's kiss. Soon he'll step up the intensity but for now he shows a gossamer touch and the room is hushed. Frank's gently vibrating vocal chords barely disturb the air. Sweet sound couriered on butterfly wings direct to your table.
But inexplicably the parcels of delight are delayed in transit and for a wonderful, mysteriously elongated moment we're in a silent movie. Extras frozen in position. Redundant, eviscerated. Awaiting the rejuvenating alchemy of the soundwave. Cigarette smoke spiralling hypnotically around the slash of light exposing Frank. Frank prowling the stage like a panther, all stealth and preternaturally silent. Pure control with an edge of black cat. He's almost primeval but they like him like that
Someone flips on the sound and the room comes to life. Frank's voice tender like two-day lobster-red Rio sunburn :
Some folks like to get away, Take a holiday from the neighbourhood, Catch a flight to Miami Beach or to Hollywood, But I'm hopping a jumbo jet, The very first one I can find, I'm in a Nevada state of mind.
And then Frank walks right off stage like he's not coming back.
Monday, July 25, 2005
Last time I checked I was inhabiting an enlightened democracy in which it wasn't a capital offence to live in the same residential block as a suspected criminal; a reassuringly sane world in which wearing an overcoat on a hot day didn't constitute a declaration of readiness to meet one's maker; a place where possessing a propensity to run away when chased didn't merit summary execution. I know things have moved quite a bit since those halcyon days of, oh, all of 3 weeks ago but being shot 5 times in the head at point-blank range seems a fairly excessive price to pay for jumping a turnstile.
Believe me, I'm desperately trying to get up to speed with the rapidly-evolving zeitgeist (let's just call it The New Barbarism) but my rapidly deteriorating brain is still struggling to comprehend a prevailing mood which proposes that termination with extreme prejudice "Mafia-style" is proportionate payback for failure to respond to a Police, Stop! command.
Now maybe it's just me but I would have thought there would be little or no point in dispatching undercover operatives to stake out, and when deemed appropriate terminate, suspected terrorists if they're just going to give the game away by yelling Police, Stop! all the time. Might as well just dress them up as regulation Bobbies and get them to shout Allo, 'allo, 'allo! and Evening, all! as polite precursors to a final Do you feel lucky, punk? before injecting five doses of hot lead straight into the suspect's cerebellum.
In these days of shape-shifting law enforcement it's, I'd assume, extremely unlikely that the victim was challenged with a Police, Stop! command. An explosive-laden terrorist in a public place would, presumably, regard just such a greeting as the perfect pretext to detonate his load.
It's highly possible that this poor guy realised he was being followed but had no idea by whom and why. Covert surveillance is by definition covert. It would be counter-productive for the operatives to disclose themselves to the suspect at any stage of the operation. It seems likely that the suspect realised he was being tailed and, quite understandably, panicked, ran and a chase ensued. It's possible that the operatives in question were visibly armed but eyewitnesses testified that the execution was performed with a handgun so it's by no means certain. A well-trained counter-terrorist operative working to a shoot-to-kill brief (close range hit rather than sniper) would, presumably, only draw his weapon at the last possible moment 1) to minimise the possibility of detonation before successful elimination of the terrorist suspect & 2) to minimise collateral panic amongst the general public which would, inevitably, lessen the likelihood of a "clean" operation, increase danger to the general public and further increase the likelihood of detonation.
It could, plausibly, be argued that the "law enforcement" attack dogs were only doing their job and that the fault properly resided higher up the chain of command. If so, then Police Intelligence (in this case at least, conforming to it's stereotypical representation as an oxymoron) should have been capable of profiling the terrorist suspect(s) under surveillance with a far greater degree of accuracy. No police operation with any pretence towards legitimacy could possibly countenance a margin of error which extended to the elimination of members of the general public who just happened to live in the same area, and who just happened to correspond to an, ostensibly, similar ethno-cultural profile, as the suspect(s).
It could equally plausibly be argued that the fault didn't lie with Intelligence and that the attack dogs were just tailing this guy on a hunch (either they were given a fairly broad remit or were acting, to a greater or lesser extent, autonomously) and that the routine operation took on it's own testosterone-fuelled momentum after the suspect panicked. In the latter case the psychological suitability of the operative(s) concerned to discharge their duties in a professional, proportionate and responsible manner is a suitable subject for inquiry.
The Rule of Law in this country has always been predicated on the principle that it's better for ten guilty men to go unpunished than for one innocent man to be imprisoned. It's logical to extrapolate the conclusion that the death of an innocent man can never be considered an acceptable price for the prosecution of the guilty. Even pernicious modern phenomena such as suicide bombers are incapable of re-configuring this basic Arithmetic of Justice.
The assertion that it's better to kill one innocent man than run the risk of losing many more innocent victims to a terrorist attack is a false dichotomy. Killing innocents clearly doesn't save lives; on the contrary it costs lives and it empowers The New Barbarism. The natural extension of this logic is the proposition that the elimination of the entire human race will result in the elimination of terrorism: true but the collateral damage is somewhat disproportionate. This is exactly the same anti-humanist calculus employed by the terrorists: human life is expendable in the pursuit of their objectives.
If we're going to throw away our heritage of due legal process, disregard long-standing constitutional checks and balances on the executive power of the State and empower it's officers to administer summary capital punishment (we're not talking self-defence here) to suspected criminals (a power denied to the judiciary even after due deliberation of the evidence) then we better, at least, try to make sure that those who are chosen, and choose, to discharge this onerous burden are constrained by a legal framework which obligates them to display a higher standard of care than seems to have been exhibited in this case.
The alternative is chaos.
Saturday, July 23, 2005
Blake: Let me have your attention for a moment. Put that coffee down. Coffee's for closers only. You think I'm fucking with you? I am not fucking with you. I'm here from downtown. I'm here from Mitch and Murray. And I'm here on a mission of mercy.
Blake: The good news is you're fired. The bad news is: you've got, all you've got, just one week to regain your jobs starting tonight. Starting with tonight's sit. Oh, have I got your attention now? Good. 'Cause we're adding a little something to this month's sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody want to see second prize? [Holds up prize.] Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you're fired.
Blake: Do you get the picture? You laughing now? You've got leads. Mitch and Murray paid good money. Get their names to sell them. You can't close the leads you're given, you can't close shit; you are shit. Hit the bricks pal and beat it cause you are going out! If you can't play in the man's game, you can't close them. You go home and tell your wife your troubles. Because only one thing counts in this life: get them to sign on the line which is dotted. A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing, always be closing. Get out there. You got the prospects coming in. You think they came in to get out of the rain? A guy don't walk on the lot lest he wants to buy. They're sitting out there waiting to give you their money.
Moss: Who are you? What's your name?
Blake: You see this watch? You see this watch?
Blake: That watch costs more than you car. I made $970,000 last year. How much you make? You see pal, that's who I am, and you're nothing. Nice guy, I don't give a shit. Good father, fuck you! Go home and play with your kids! You wanna work here, close! You think this is abuse? You think this is abuse, you cocksucker? You can't take this, how can you take the abuse you get on a sit? You don't like it? Leave.
I can go out there tonight, the materials you got, make myself $15,000. Tonight! In two hours! Can you? Can you? Go and do likewise. Get mad you son of a bitches, get mad!
Levene: The leads are weak.
Blake: The leads are weak? Fuckin' leads are weak? You're weak. I've been in this business fifteen years.
Moss: What's your name?
Blake: FUCK YOU! That's my name. You know why, mister? 'Cause you drove a Hyundai to get here tonight, and I drove an $80,000 BMW. That's my name!
Moss: We don't gotta sit here and listen to this.
Blake: You sure don't pal, 'cause the good news is - you're fired!
Blake: You know what it takes to sell real estate? It takes brass balls to sell real estate. Go and do likewise gents. The money's out there, you pick it up it's yours, you don't, I got no sympathy for you. You want to go out on those sits tonight and close, close it's yours. If not you're going to be shinin' my shoes. And you know what you'll be saying, a bunch of losers sittin' around in a bar: 'oh yeah I used to be a salesman, it's a tough racket.'
Blake: These are the new leads. These are the Glengarry leads. And to you they're gold, and you don't get them. Why? Because to give them to you is just throwing them away. They're for closers.
Blake: I'd wish you good luck but you wouldn't know what to do with it if you got it.
Saturday, July 09, 2005
Of course al Qa’ida, and their imitative ilk (they are a cancer which scatters self-sustaining secondary tumours throughout the globe), don’t need a reason for blowing up innocents: preternatural hatred of America, it’s allies and everything they stand for is sufficient pretext for indulging in the butchery which they so patently enjoy, but anyone who proposes that Britain (or Iraq, the United States, Spain, the world in general) is a safer place since the Iraqi invasion is patently certifiable.
Guilt-ridden liberals erroneously characterise the metastasing menace of al-Qa’ida as the terrorist/insurgent/freedom fighter equivalent of a battered wife retaliating against her abuser but al-Qa’ida are even less likely to fit a bogus pseudo-psychological profile of victimhood than S&M serial killer Karla Homolka. The Al-Qa’ida Death Cult embrace death, depravity and indiscriminate destruction with sado-masochistic, psycho-sexual rapture.
Al-Qa’ida aren’t particularly interested in the plight of the Palestinian people and they couldn’t care less about the Allied incursion into Iraq beyond the opportunistic identification of that particular Hell-on-Earth as a fertile recruitment ground and suitable base for operations. These nihilistic harbingers of Chaos style themselves as Islamic avengers but they're really the Fifth Circle of Hell's PR department.
Al-Qa’ida’s primary interest is the dissemination of fear. Their chosen vehicle is pornography: an act of barbarism is only invested with meaning if it’s caught on camera. Any society gets the pornography it deserves and in the decadent democracies the prevailing trend is towards violence.
Al-Qa’ida are nothing if not hip to the zeitgeist. They’re locked into a self-perpetuating and endlessly self-referential cycle: the production and distribution of low-cost, gonzo snuff movies ~ pornographic paroxysms of violence with faux-religious overtones ~ executions of hostages posted on the web and terrorist atrocities filmed by the voraciously voyeuristic cameras of the world’s media, captured on the digital cameras and mobile phones of victims and bystanders, and endlessly replayed on CNN and other 24 hour news networks for our depraved delectation and delight.
The timing of this week's bombings had nothing to do with the Olympics (the decision to award the Games to London merely added an extra, though to some extent fortuitous, portion of insult to an already generous helping of injury) but everything to do with the start of the G8 Conference, which took place a few miles up the road from Casa del eugenio. The “great and the good” should hold future get-togethers on the surface of the moon as nowhere on Planet Earth is an outbreak of Ugly American Neo-conservatism likely to be greeted with anything other than a proportionate and reciprocal measure of contempt.
But the bombings weren’t just about the charm-less Yank: Al Qa’ida wanted to give Bush’s lapdog Blair a bloody nose and, sure enough, the bombs sent him whimpering away from his master’s side in search of his cajones. Blair was always going to reap a bitter harvest from his inexplicable decision to style himself as Bush’s bitch. Al Qa’ida clearly wanted to humiliate Blair, undermine the G8 but, perhaps most importantly, it was time for the most narcissistic, jealous and insecure terror group in history to get back in front of the cameras in a bid to reinforce the al-Qa’ida Terror brand in a fickle market currently dominated by sexier rivals such as Make Poverty History and Global Warming.
It had all been so different a few days earlier when Blair had assured his African advisers Bono, Bob Geldof, Brad Pitt and George Clooney that he’d make sure Mr. Bush got down with the Make Poverty History program. Normal service was resumed when George informed the world that I really don’t view our relationship as one of quid pro quo, I view our relationship as one of master and slave. No concessions on Africa or climate change in exchange supporting us in Iraq proclaimed Bush, puncturing the happy-clappy optimistic bubble blown by the Messianic Rock Stars Without a Mandate.
Needless to say with the re-energised War on Terror raining on Africa’s parade the “trivial” matter of Global Warming was conveniently shuffled to the back of the pack. Reducing the impact of poverty and Aids on the African populace is perfectly laudable if their continent has any prospect of remaining habitable. The American Neo-cons, characteristically, cherry-pick science to best fit their ideology and throw the rest in the trash. Playing craps with climate change, for now, might be George's idea of fun but if, or more likely when, he rolls snake eyes and Africa ends up relocating to Antartica just as South-East Asia migrates to Siberia we’ll spare a thought for the intransigent Yanks as they’re trying to shoehorn 49 states into the bit of Alaska which isn’t under water. I'm no betting man but I'll wager a whisky sour to all the beer in Brooklyn that one day soon Climate Wars will make the Middle East seem like Woodstock.
The 8 kilometre long, two metre-high steel mesh perimeter fence, guarded by a series of watchtowers and a network of surveillance cameras, patrolled by armed police and circled by military helicopters, surrounding Gleneagles proved more than sufficient to keep the protestors out but fears that it wasn’t capable of keeping the war criminals in were realised yesterday when George Bush escaped.
In truth al-Qa’ida is suffering from acute second album syndrome. When you start by flying hi-jacked passenger jets into the Twin Towers the only way is down. Three tiny homemade bombs were detonated in the underground system and a fourth peeled the roof off a bus. London’s public transport system shut down for a day but the next it was pretty much business as usual. My guess is that Britain will deal with the bombings in it’s customarily stoical fashion and will probably resist the understandable temptations to clamp down on civil liberties, invade a sovereign state with no discernable connection to the bombings, detain hordes of suspects without due legal process in makeshift prison camps, build human pyramids out of naked Arabs and evict folk singers from casinos for purporting to enjoy a Michael Moore movie.
A closing thought: it would be nice to effect regime change in the United States but I don’t, yet, consider this to be sufficient reason to invade it.