Hearing Stanley Kubrick’s voice on the new Criterion edition of his coruscating anti-war melodrama ‘Paths of Glory’ is like listening to a ghost; not because the director has been dead for over a decade, but because he said so little in public when he was alive. It’s one of the characteristic delights of a marvelous disc that provides thoughtful context for a film that was so dangerous to Gallic pride that it couldn’t be seen in France for over twenty years after its first release in 1957. It’s a powerful, painful experience to watch; a story of true horror – on the Front, and in the chateaux occupied by sneering generals playing chess with life while Kirk Douglas tries to save his men from the evil that distorted notions of honor breed.
The first scene of Nagisa Oshima’s ‘Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence’ (new on DVD and Blu-Ray from Criterion) is occupied with the horror of a soldier being forced to cut his intestines open as a punishment for being in love with another man. The last image of the film is the smiling face of a soldier the night before his execution, beaming a greeting of filial affection to a former enemy. We’re in a POW camp run under the auspices of the Japanese military, where Allied soldiers are half-subjected to, and half-ignored by an honor code that proposes self-disembowelment as the response, it appears, to just about any infraction. In between the attempted seppuku and the smiling greeting, the adorable Tom Conti reflects poetically on the mutually assured idiocy of war, Ryuichi Sakamoto gets angry, and then gets healed while his fascinating and eventually ubiquitous score overplays but not so much that it bothers, and gorgeous burnt light provides a mystical hue to what is ultimately a nightmare that becomes a dream and then finally a reality the audience always wanted: reconciliation between people who were otherwise ready to kill each other.
But not before David Bowie saves the world.
Of course I never knew Tyler Clementi, the young Rutgers student who took his own life last month in a tragedy so unfathomably horrific that it doesn’t permit adequate attempts at description. The story that has emerged so far is that Tyler was enjoying a romantic moment with another guy, while his roommate secretly streamed the encounter live on the internet. Shortly after Tyler found out, he jumped off a bridge.
Of course I never knew him, but his story demands a deeper listening than has yet been promoted or presented by our culture’s spokespeople. This is not just a story about one man and two acquaintances whose idiotic prank appears to have caused such fear of exposure that Tyler felt he had to kill himself. It’s a story about all of us. And we all need to listen to it.
Two films released by the Criterion Collection this week focus on men at war. We’ll discuss Terrence Malick’s ‘The Thin Red Line’ on the next episode of The Film Talk, and below; later in the week I’ll post a piece on ‘Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence’. These are two of the most compelling films released on DVD this year.
When I first saw Terrence Malick’s ‘The Thin Red Line’, it was the turn of the century, Bill Clinton was still in office, the Twin Towers were intact, and the film seemed to be about the past. The distant past, to be sure: a film that begins with a reptile submerging and ends with a plant growing on a beach seems to exist a long time before we did. The nearer past, ostensibly: it takes place in 1942 during the early Guadalcanal Campaign (although you’ll look in vain for the caption that appeared on the print I saw over a decade ago to indicate it; Malick, it seems, has had that removed from the new Criterion Collection Blu-ray and DVD release: he wants the movie to exist outside time). This is only appropriate, as it aims to be a poem about the primitive roots of violence, the lack of maturity among men who see the world only as a fight, the power of love to sustain even when it is broken, the tragedy of human beings caught in a web that they think dictates that only violence can be the path to power in this life.
My ‘Bloody Sunday’ article from last week received a critical comment from a reader, and I wanted to respond.
I wrote to the commenter – Taicligh – as follows: No response to critical comments is likely to satisfy entirely either your criticism or my defensiveness ;-) But I hope you can see my response as an opportunity to continue dialogue, rather than to shut it down. I apologise in advance for what I’ve got wrong this time round – we are all frail and faltering, and looking toward the same light. I hope we can keep talking.
To take each of Taicligh’s points in turn:
>wow, you’re certainly not biased.
I’m sorry that my article gave rise to such a critical response; it was not my intention to entrench division; the article was actually an attempt at expressing a broader view of things than is often seen in conversation about divided societies; one that would endorse the Bloody Sunday enquiry, respect the pain of the families, and endorse the British Prime Minister’s apology while suggesting how the context could expand beyond (and because of) this single event. I’m sorry also that my article seemed biased and insensitive. At the same time, I’m not sure that biases can ever be avoided in writing about something so powerful as the history of a violently divided society. What might be better would be if we could all acknowledge our the existence of our biases, and dialogue in the knowledge that none of us has a monopoly on truth.
For 14 people in my homeland, northern Ireland — a place whose divisions are so fully on the surface that we still can’t agree what to call it (the reason I spell it with a small ‘n’) — the clocks stopped on January 30, 1972.
For their families, this week it may feel like they have finally started again. These 14 people were participating in a civil rights march that was fired upon by British soldiers. This event, known as Bloody Sunday, marked a turning point in the history of conflict among Catholic/Irish and Protestant/British. The killings galvanized support for the IRA, the paramilitary organization dedicated to ending British governance in the six northeastern counties of the island of Ireland, and scarred the two communities — one with the grief at their loss, the other with the dehumanizing coldness that complicit parties often feel toward those whose suffering they are seeking to legitimize.
I knew nothing about ‘Revanche‘, other than it was the kind of film people tell you you’re supposed to like, but they say it so often, and the acclaim is so overwhelming that it makes you wonder if it’s going to be a rehearsal of the time you didn’t get to see ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ on its first release but it seemed as if every four paces you took in town or every third hyperlink you clicked on you’d bump into someone telling you that ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ was not only the Greatest Film Ever Made™ but would make a supermodel fall in love with you and have you develop a six-pack within a matter of days after watching and so by the time you finally did go to see ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ it couldn’t possibly measure up to the standard that had been set for it and anyway the cinema you saw it in was forced to LEAVE ITS LIGHTS ON DURING THE MOVIE because of an absurd local government health and safety injunction ordering it to get new dimmer switches despite the fact that in thirty-five years of operating NO ONE had ever fallen over and sued or lost their soul or even stubbed a toe so it was difficult to engage with ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ cos it’s kinda hard at the best of times to suspend disbelief when watching a fantasy film even moreso WHEN THE LIGHTS IN THE CINEMA HAVE BEEN LEFT ON but it didn’t really matter because… Continue reading
We’re making some final plans for the Celtic Spirituality and Radical Activism Event – a week in Northern Ireland in August, leading up to Greenbelt. There are still some places left, but we need to make some decisions this week about numbers – so if you’re interested we need to hear from you very soon. More details on the event here – if you’re interested in participating, let us know…
What’s annoying me about this story is that the kids stopped throwing stones, and the trouble dispersed, but the guy still got reprimanded. Why not turn using music instead of force to reduce violence into a policy option, rather than giving grief to people who are trying something imaginative?
‘I think that man is not going to change, and the sea going to be dead, because man is crazy’. – ‘The End of the Line’ (That’s not a photo of the ‘end’ – it’s actually a picture of Ira Levin, but that’ll make sense if you read on.)
(Re-posted from The Film Talk): The first time I had a tuna sandwich I was eleven years old. It was October 1986, and my mum had cast me in a staged reading of Ira Levin’s play ‘Critic’s Choice’, in which, if memory serves, I played the 12 year old son of an unpleasant theatre reviewer, who advises his dad on how to respond to a play written by his wife that he doesn’t like. I was terrified, having neither developed a sense of being comfortable on stage, nor having had more than an hour or two to peruse Mr Levin’s script. Well, he went on to write ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘The Stepford Wives’, and I went on to eat more tuna. I never really thought about where my food came from until the fair trade movement of the late 1990s convinced me to change coffee brands in a neat inverse colonisation move; and since then it seems that every five minutes there’s a new documentary about what’s wrong with the world’s supply-and-demand chains, and what to do about it. Thus far, Al Gore has made me switch off lights that I’m not using, Michael Moore has made me avoid certain banks, the Francis Brother’s ‘Black Gold’ has reinforced what I’d already become convinced of where coffee’s concerned. Now it’s Nemo’s turn. Continue reading