Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Warning - Angry Rant!


In the endless quest for entertainment, I attempt to avoid that which will give me heartburn. It is like food poisoning or wasting your life. Well, can’t always succeed.


I decided to do a favor for a sad friend and see, “The Dark Knight Rises” with him at the Riverview. The latest installment in the Batman franchise. A mistake. We left after 2 hours of punishment.  I apologize for not inflicting the rest of the film on myself.

If you wonder, like me, why a story about some rich man who feels compelled to fight ‘evil’ on his own is so central to some tights-wearing males, you have a point. Who appointed Bruce Wayne? What is some creep with a butler, a big house, some ‘Industries” and a missing “Robin” have to do with this? Yeah, he’s not so friendly with the police, but then he is. He’s like the uber-cop. Charles Bronson. The avenger. A citizen vigilante. One guy? Who flies?

In this case, a group of nuclear-loaded anarchists bust into the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street. The anarchists then hold a rally for the citizens in a “Gotham” ball field and tell them they are free. Everyone in the stadium looks at each other and wonders what that means. The crafty anarchists trick thousands of cops into being trapped in an unused subway tunnel. Then they free those in Gotham’s prisons - many of whom later turn out to be innocent. They hold trials of rich people or something like that. Everything is not shiny, rich and new anymore, but grey and poor. Sound like anything current? Yes, you got it, an ‘anti-Occupy’ counter-revolutionary Batman movie. Who would have thunk it? The Commissioner is nailed in the film for jailing innocent people, but, look, we still have to free those cops. After all, the anarchists have a weapon of mass destruction. Or maybe they are Iranian or Iraqi.

I was cheering for the nuclear anarchists, and their masked Road Warrior leader, kept in a hole in the desert in Uzbekistan or something.That is never a good sign.

The plot is so convoluted, the story so long, that even some beer could not make this dark night make sense.


I decided to do another favor, this time for one of my daughters, who wanted to see “Appomattox” at the Guthrie. She wanted to see if this play was appropriate to bring students to. The Guthrie is our ‘flagship’ theater in this heavily-theater town, a stylish, airport of a building on the river, sponsored by who rules Minneapolis. Don’t go. I felt trapped, until LBJ told some fart jokes.

The play is written by an evidently English LBJ acolyte named Christopher Hampton. It was in two parts – one, 1865, the last year of the Civil War (hence the title, Appomattox.) and one in 1965 after the Kennedy assassination, when LBJ was president. Mr. Hampton has the most general and clich├ęd view of the civil war put to stage - all text, no feel. It was like a revolving historical diorama of speeches and quotes, spoken by wooden, dull actors (except perhaps by the one playing Grant), repeating every single word now made famous in quotes from history books. It could work as a diorama for tourists in Gettysburg. And would have put students to sleep, as it was doing to part of the grown-up audience. My daughter scotched the play about here.

Then, after a drinks-laden intermission and a view of the twinkling Mississippi, the second half started. LBJ started swearing and insulting, Martin Luther King started pontificating and speechifying, the playwright hit all the typical liberal cliches’ and pablum, and at least LBJ gave us some laughs. Hampton did the FBI and the CIA a favor by portraying Lee Harvey Oswald as a ‘leftist’ defending Cuba - which was the line of the American secret police about that event. Stunning. He then makes fun of Hoover through the eyes of Johnson for the rest of the play, after propagandizing for Hoover in this manner. I have a question, Mr. Hampton. Why didn’t LBJ get rid of Hoover, if he hated him? Or did Hoover have something on LBJ, like he had on everyone else? But LBJ didn’t, and it is quite possible this helped lead to the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968. Another 'redneck' made fun of by the Texan LBJ, Alabama Governor Wallace, also appears. LBJ did not force the segregationist ‘cracker’ Wallace out of the Democratic Party in 1965 either. That happened 3 years later.

The plays sole strength is showing that LBJ still had aspects of a southern New Dealer about him. This is why he yielded to popular pressure – riots, strikes, sit-ins and marches at home and the opprobrium of the whole world, including the USSR abroad - and adopted the voting rights and civil rights bills, as well as Medicare and Medicaid. Of course, the hook was that meanwhile guns and butter LBJ was sending Marines into Vietnam. The rest is bloody history. Hampton wears an LBJ T-shirt in the printed promo brochure, so we know he didn't volunteer to go to Vietnam to help LBJ out.

This play could have just been called “Lyndon’ and expanded around that. As it was, it was a pastiche and a traffic accident.  The black people were stereotypes.  The running joke was that the wives and the aides of these ‘great men of history’ really had the power. The two token ‘radicals’ in the play, John Lewis of SNCC and Frederick Douglass, had almost no role – playing walk-ons to the ‘great men’ like Lincoln and King instead.

Hampton’s basic point was that the civil war did not solve the issue of slavery and oppression in America, even after a 100 years. However, nor did the 1960s. The position of black people at the bottom of the U.S. economic hierarchy has now not changed for 147 years – even after so many ‘great men.’ If this punk writer had been serious, this might have been his real point.  As it was, this little fact the adulator did not make.


This film was the best of the three. I chose to go to this myself, based on the massive buzz. It is a cross between the style of Terrence Malick’s surreal “Tree of Life” (reviewed below), the class atmosphere of Winter’s Bone and the theme of Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke.” It is the spotted story of a tough 6 year old black girl named “Hushpuppy” who deals with a Katrina-like flood on her island in the Mississippi River delta. While handling a drunk, violent father, a missing mother, a burning shack, being left alone and homeless, being hungry, then a dead dad, and monstrous wild boars the size of semi-trucks. Clueless white people actually brought their children to the Riverview Theater to munch on popcorn, pop and candy bars and watch this, because they thought it was a child’s film. Global warming caused this film, not Disney.

At the end of this story, there is only an emotional residue. Like a bad dream. I mean a really ‘bad’ dream. Flashing images. Fear. Disgust. But she’s a tough, plucky feral child, sort of like the kid in Road Warrior II. And we are supposed to be cheered by that. Too bad she’s not real.

This film provided the basis for an essay by film ‘theorists’ who argue that America has become such a 3rd World country that ‘magical realism’ is no longer foreign. This is how the powerless handle bad facts – through magic and poetry. It used to be confined to fucked-up little countries outside our borders, but it is now invading our ‘own’ psychic terrain. Those guys should have seen “The Dark Knight Rises.” Their pessimism would have been cured.

Red Frog
October 31, 2012
Happy All Hallows Eve
Happy Dia Dos Muertos

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