Worst Movie Ever?

This is an interesting post over at “videogum”; a snarkfest about the quest to find the worst movie ever.

That particular link is to Crash.

I liked Crash, though I felt it was over-rated. It was highly watchable. Also, as I live in Los Angeles, and it made L.A. seem very, very small, I considered it more a surreal fantasy than anything. Not hugely meaningful, just a fast-paced set of vignettes centered on racism. (I plain loved Magnolia, which struck me as almost a kind of film-pointillism, and which commenters also trash.)

I can totally see how thinking Crash was supposed to be meaningful in some deep way would piss you off. But note, also, that the viewer’s attack is made partly based on who made it. They tie Paul Haggis (disparagingly) to thirtysomething (which I also liked, as an anthropological curiosity: “Why are these old people always whining?”) when he’s most responsible for the relatively harmless Due South and also credited with writing Million Dollar Baby, as well as Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima for Eastwood.

Maybe that’s indicative of something. A lot of people saw political messages in there where I saw individual stories it would be foolish to extrapolate from, and which would give contradictory messages if you did extrapolate from them.

But then, also note, the quest started upon seeing Death Sentence, James Wan’s gritty revenge flick. I’m not sure what someone expects upon seeing a movie called Death Sentence. I mean, I’d think one would expect violence and action, which this movie delivered in a stylish way.

What the two movies (Crash and Death Sentence) have in common is that they’re surreal. Take them as absolutely literal, and, yeah, they don’t make much sense. But you can apply that, more or less, to any narrative. By definition, narratives do not hew to reality because reality is boring. Editing, plot conveniences, bizarre coincidences are all things that drive fiction.

Now, you might say, “But, Blake! What about all that stuff about post-apocalyptic movies you rant on about. Aren’t you demanding realism from a narrative there?”

My response is simple and two-fold.

  1. Shut up.
  2. I love post-apocalyptic films, even the bad ones. Children of Men is not the worst movie ever, not by a longshot. It’s terribly poorly thought out, but the premise is good enough to power enough dramatic tension to keep the film moving.

Meanwhile, nobody mentions any of my “worst movies”.

Here’s a truism:

Good is subjective. Bad is highly subjective.

My criteria for worst movie, as noted in the link above, is when you have all the money and talent in the world and you blow it trying to shoehorn a message.

But, wait, couldn’t that describe Crash? It surely could. Like Paul Haggis, I’ll leave you to figure out the moral of this story.

“I wanted a mission. And for my sins, they gave me one.”

Apocalypse Now is on TCM. It’s so fitting to watch this after Tropic Thunder, which parodied it mercilessly.

I still love Apocalypse Now–I know some people think of it as a bloated college project film, but I think it’s one of the greatest movies ever made.

I’ve knew a vet who thought Apocalypse Now nailed the experience, and a Gulf War vet who said it capture the surreal feel of battle in general.

Update: Still love it. Great cinematography, great acting, great editing, great sound, great music–Coppola managed to make scenes out of the hash Brando was serving–just a great film. That said, I can’t imagine watching another 45 minutes in the “Redux” version.

Loudon Wainwright: Career Moves

This is probably not a huge interest to the pointy-breast-seekers, but I’m going to post it here, because the mailing list cut it off after the first line.

I’m a Loudon Wainwright III fan. No, there’s nothing you can do for me. No pills or shock treatment will work. I came to know the ol’ Loudo–as millions of other Americans did–from “M*A*S*H”, where he played Captain Spaulding, the Singing Surgeon.

His big hit was “Dead Skunk”, though I was more partial to “Unrequited to the Nth Degree”:

Oh, when I die
And it won’t be long
Hey you’re gonna be sorry
That you treated me wrong
Yeah, you’re gonna be sorry
That you treated me bad
And if there’s an afterlife
I’ll gloat and I’ll be glad


Most of his oeuvre, while irreverent is not as jokey as this, mind you. He’s quite the master of mixing serious and comedy (absurd, satirical, smartass–a pretty broad range) in the same song.

Anyway, about ten years ago, I joined an Internet mailing list devoted to him. It was quite novel at the time and I was pleased to find others who enjoyed the ol’ Loudo’s music.

LW3 is prolific. From 1997 (when I joined the list) till now, he’s released, I dunno, over a half dozen albums. And except for the live albums, every release has been met with bitching from the list about the production.

You see, Loudon’s first two albums were just him and guitar. And some people think that’s all he should ever be and do . There are other sorts of bitching that list-members endure, as well, such as bitching about “Social Studies”, which was an album of topical songs mostly written for NPR. (Loudon’s other albums tend to be intensely personal by contrast.) And now we get new bitching because he’s teamed up with Judd Apatow written music for the movie Knocked Up, as well as (gasp) doing a lot of performing others’ music. He’s not always performing alone anymore and he’s not always doing exclusively his own music. (Neither of these things are new, but he’s branching out to a new degree.)

Any other fan base would probably be ecstatic that their man–who turns 62 on Tuesday and does dozens and dozens of shows all around the world every year–is so prolific, and has a chance at some mainstream popularity. But Loudon fans are different. Loudon’s even written about it:

Some fans harass and stalk the big guy likes to talk
he knows every song what’s been good and gone wrong
he knows the story of my whole cheesy life
the name of each kid ex-girlfriend and wife
every label that I’ve every been on
yes he’s obsessed but he doesn’t fawn
though he understands cause he’s my biggest fan

But the biggest surprise asides his size
is just how hip he is when it comes to show biz
there’s a (triumberate) kind of top three
yeah there’s Bob then there’s Neil then there’s me
naturally Bobs number one and the runner up that’s Mr Young
I’m number three in command but he’s still my biggest fan
yeah hey I’m his third man but he’s still my biggest fan

Now that I’ve put in all this foundational material, I’m not really interested in reprinting what I put on the mailing list. (Yes, this is all new material, and I wrote a lot more in response to someone misguided rant. But now I’m bored with the my own rant. Heh.)

Short story: People who get together to talk about something–fan groups–tend to be insular and short-sighted. They tend to think they’re the whole world when they’re really a tiny piece of it. They’re particularly bad at making judgements vis a vis what will be successful in the real wide-world.

Also, as I’ve said over and over again, it would be death to any artist to read their own fan-group list. I can’t imagine anything more introverting and doubt-creating than listening to people like, well, like Loudon’s “biggest fan”, above.

Good vs. Evil and Politics

I stated in the last post that I leaned strongly toward voting for Obama till I discovered he was part of the Chicago machine. If you ask yourself how terrorists, gangsters and radicals can be prominent in politics, you just have to look at The Machine, which cares about nothing more than loyalty.

Until then, he seemed like an outsider.

I am one of those voters who likes outsiders. My theory is that politics is a sort of poison. A spiritual poison that slowly turns people into shadows. Sort of like acting.

We all are faced with ethical dilemmas from time-to-time, where the right decision isn’t obvious. In fact, the beauty of many great action narratives is that the bad guys wear black hats. They announce their evil to the world. Who wouldn’t want to go up against a Darth Vader–and didn’t Lucas screw that up with his prequel trilogy?–or a Jack Wilson (Palance in Shane)?

Real evil comes like Iago in Othello, disguised as a friend. Or Cassius, in Julius Caesar, convincing others that he’s doing good. And convincing you to join him. (Not, sadly, like Vader offering you power if you join the Dark Side.)

This is what messes people up: Those good intentions that pave the road to Hell.

And that is an apt description of politics. Even Ted Kennedy, who has outright stated his dedication to destroying the USA (as it is), does it because to him, the USA is a black hat.

It doesn’t really matter what side you’re on, politics is a sticky mess guaranteed to require you to compromise–in other words, to do something you know is wrong. If you’re honest, of course, you weight the outcomes and try to pick the greater good.

Imagine our politicians as wanting to be responsible for a great many things. In the USA, the one who aspires to be President is essentially wanting to be responsible for the whole world. (Yeah, we’re that important. Suck it down, everyone else.) Let’s give them the benefit of a doubt for a moment, and say that at least some of them really, really are good enough and big enough to want this for non-selfish reasons.

As politicians are forced to compromise, that circle of awareness collapses, until ultimately they end up looking at what’s good for them, personally–and believing that it’s good for the country. Some of the greats hold on to certain core principles to anchor them. Others invert the entire universe to revolve around themselves and perversely pick choices that they think will reflect well on them in history books. And some of the might-have-been greats see the threat to those principles and abandon ship.

And who can blame them? Politicians deserve our pity. Look at the Founding Fathers: They had to make a country, and they couldn’t do it–it could not be done!–without incorporating slavery. To a lot of them, this was anathema, and they probably all could see the Civil War looming in the future. But they had no choice.

The disgust you would feel at founding a country where some were considered 3/5ths human is the same disgust some of them had to have felt. (Thomas Jefferson must’ve been a seething cauldron of complex contradictions.)

That’s gotta have an impact. And nodern politicians do this sort of thing, writ small, every day.

Anyway, the upshot of this theory is that I’m actually for political “inexperience”. The President is not a micro-manager or an accountant nor even a General. He (or she!) is a decision maker. The less time in politics, the greater the clarity of vision.

There’s another point: Evil requires obscurity. The Left likes to paint the Right as un-nuanced cowboys–as black hats, in fact. Generally, however, you know where the Right stands. Hell, you generally know where libertarians stand (who straddle conservative and liberal concepts).

While it’s good to be suspicious of people who only see things in terms of black-and-white, from an engineering standpoint, some things effectively are black-and-white! Russians aren’t evil but, in fact, the USSR was, in fact, an evil empire. Same for the Chinese. Hell, same for Germany in WWII. Same for Saddam’s Iraq. Etc.

Palin, unlike Obama, says exactly where she stands on things in stark terms. And has a track record to prove it. Even though I disagree with her on a lot of topics, she’s a lot easier to vote for than Barack, who promises in vague terms to improve things.

And again, there’s that Chicago machine–with Ayers–and there’s Wright in there, too. I’m not saying Obama is evil–far from it. I very much suspect that he, personally, is a post-racial kind of guy. I think he’s visited a lot of radical worldviews as an anthropologist and politician, not as a true believer. For all the delusion and hysteria that accompanies his fan base, a lot of it comes from a recognition of what’s good in him.

But for a guy who’s a newcomer, he’s had to compromise a whole lot to get where he is. A lot of playing ball and political poison ingesting.

Palin seems to have fought against corruption in her party and with the surrounding business interests. She seems to have anchors–more than one, while some pro-lifers have nothing but anti-abortion sentiment to anchor to–and, deliciously, she and her husband seem to be weirdos. Outliers. Alaskans.

No one knows what will turn up, of course. Maybe there’s some Alaskan machine or something–Lord knows Stevens and Young are perfect examples of having political poisoning.

But for now I’m rooting for the outlier. Even if I can’t bring myself to vote for the other guy on the ticket.

Rope-A-Dope

Althouse is swamped with Palin stuff.

Startling choice. I was sure he’d pick Pawlenty. As C4 pointed out in several threads it’s a PC choice, she doesn’t have enough experience. (Though, truth be told, if she were topping the ticket, I’d vote for her without hesitation, for the same reason I would’ve voted for Obama before I found out he was part of the Chicago machine.)

This morning, though, I see that it’s a rope-a-dope. Obama’s supporters won’t be able to resist attacking her over experience–which rebounds nastily on him–and on gender–which will alienate some disaffected HRC voters.

Update: Yep. Already it begins. Under this rational post at Feministe, you’ll find all kinds of justifications for attacking Palin in sexist terms. BECAUSE OF TEH HYPOCRISY! as Goldstein would say.

Hey, if you came over from Ace’s, I apologize for the blind link. I could’ve and should’ve put the body of this in my post there rather than forcing y’all over. Sorry!

What do you think? Did McCain’s camp–are they smart enough and savvy enough–to have done this deliberately, knowing Obama’s fans would do the rest?

Drive Me To Nevada

Stuff like this is … it’s just … Ugh.

I don’t want to vote for McCain, I really don’t, but the terrorist thing with Obama–he needed to throw these murderers under the bus along time ago. The Democrats need to distance themselves from radicals the way the Reps have had to with theirs.

Just like I don’t want to leave California.

The tax wouldn’t even affect me, theoretically. Of course, if it started looking like it was going to affect me (which is far from impossible), I’d leave. My lifelong home to which I’m unreasonably attached (I mean, seriously, most of my peers moved away years ago).

Of course, like all creepingly totalitarian governments, there’s an “exit tax”. So if you dare to express your dis-satisfaction with the state, they’ll require a bribetax to let you out. Then, to keep you from sneaking out, they’ll build a wall.

California will have a sea on one side, a wall on the north and east borders, and an open access coming in from Mexico. They’ll keep you from going out if they think you’re trying to escape the “exit tax”.

They say conservatives are liberals who’ve been mugged by reality. I think some of them must be liberals who’ve been mugged by the government.

I don’t think it’ll pass, even if it gets on the ballot. I hope.

Tony Curtis

Tony Curtis night on TCM.

One of my favorite movies, The Sweet Smell of Success, photographed by the great James Wong Howe. It cemented Burt Lancaster in my mind as one of the greats.

Ironically, perhaps, given Janet Leigh and her importance to the blog, Tony Curtis doesn’t do it for me. Though I get him mixed up with Kirk Douglas, who does it even less for me. (In fact, I tend to think of The Sweet Smell of Success as being Kirk Douglas’ best role. Heh.)

Nice to see he’s still alive in working, though I’m always surprised that his career has been so tepid in the past 30 years. Though I guess given my own perception of him, maybe I’m not alone?

Juice Plus…plus?

I just went to that modern version of a Tupperware party known as the “nutritional supplement information presentation”.

I know that sounds snarky but, hey, Tupperware is good stuff. My mom has stuff from 35 years ago that still works. These days they’re all MLMs.

So, you kind of have two strikes there: Nutritional supplements and MLM.

But it was hosted by my chiropractor. My chiropractor is probably the least…chiropractor-y chiropractor I’ve ever had. Often, chiropractors–the red-headed step-children of medicine–are into far-out stuff.

I’m not knocking far-out stuff. I’ve seen some far-out stuff work. (I’m also a big fan of placebos. I think they’re under-rated.)

Anyway, this stuff looks interesting and when one of the person singing its praises is a similarly staid cancer patient talking about how it alleviated 99% of her chemo- and radiation symptoms, well, I have to take notice.

The light research I did before the presentation was fairly good. I thought I’d see how it did with the brood.