Category Archives: movies

Permissible

A comment on IMDb:

I watched Death Sentence while it was playing on TV on the channel FX. I found it almost hilariously disturbing that people were getting shot and dying bloody deaths on screen, but in the meantime mofos were being edited to mother sucker and freaking. And the f word was being changed to heck, and s*** was being changed to shoot. So show as much violence on television as you want, just God forbid you drop an F bomb or show nudity, because you know, THAT will screw kids up. Not people having their brains blown out rather graphically. Then the rest of us get to watch badly dubbed gang members running around with guns screaming “What the ‘heck’ is going on!” Thank you MPAA for keeping America’s children safe from breasts and bad words, but exposing them to more wholesome things like machetes and gang wars.

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Atlas

In his introduction to Brand Blanshard’s On Philosophical Style (book | online), Michael Walsh highlights a passage from the essay that deals with the importance of clarity when it comes to putting philosophical ideas to paper. Blanshard wrote-

To say that Major André was hanged is clear and definite; to say that he was killed is less definite, because you do not know in what way he was killed; to say that he died is still more indefinite because you do not even know whether his death was due to violence or to natural causes. If we were to use this statement as a varying symbol by which to rank writers for clearness, we might, I think, get something like the following: Swift, Macaulay, and Shaw would say that André was hanged. Bradley would say that he was killed. Bosanquet would say that he died. Kant would say that his mortal existence achieved its termination. Hegel would say that a finite determination of infinity had been further determined by its own negation.

Walsh concludes by quoting another passage from the essay-

Berkeley proved against all the Heideggers of the world that philosophy can be written clearly, against all the Hegels that it can be written simply, against all the Kants that it can be written with grace. He was no mere popularizer; he was an acute, original, and technical thinker, urging a theory that is about as shocking to common sense as any theory ever offered. But though even Dr. Johnson could not answer him, the plain man could read him and understand. ‘I shall throughout endeavour,’ he wrote, ‘to express myself in the clearest, plainest, and most familiar manner, abstaining from all hard and unusual terms which are pretended by those that use them to cover a sense abstracted and sub­lime.’ He kept to this engagement. He ‘spoke with the vulgar’ without ceasing to think with the learned. Like G. E. Moore in our own day, he showed in the one wholly convincing way—by example—that philosophy could maintain all the sharp-eyed wariness of the specialist while walking the road of ordinary speech.

This is what Long wrote about Rand-

Rand owed much of her success to the power and directness of her writing style. She was a master at what one of my colleagues calls reductio ad claritatem, “reduction to clarity” — i.e., the method of refuting a position by stating it clearly — as when she wrote that “if some men are entitled by right to the products of the work of others, it means that those others are deprived of rights and condemned to slave labor,” or when she summarized the view that human perception is unreliable because limited by the nature of our sensory organs as “man is blind, because he has eyes — deaf, because he has ears.”

Clarity. One could accuse Rand of many things, but one can never say that she was unclear. Which is why I don’t buy most of the attacks on her ideas, particularly those from people whose political philosophy and ethics are in conflict with hers. Like this exercise in pissing and name-calling (kindergarten is a wonderful place) by someone who likes to write about things which he is clueless about (I covered his previous fit here). He approvingly links to this hatchet job on Rand in a religious journal. When I read pieces like these, I imagine the author perched on his septic tank, dipping his pen in it every few minutes. Would it kill them if they read a couple of her works before writing page after page of unadulterated nonsense? Probably. Neither Chait’s progressive-liberal world view, nor Hart’s which has its roots in Christianity, could survive the Randian sledgehammer. They’d rather pretend that it was an icepick.

Here’s another paragraph from Long’s article-

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Rand’s philosophy — her rejection of altruism and her embrace of ethical egoism — is also one of the most misunderstood. Despite her sometimes-misleading rhetoric about “the virtue of selfishness,” the point of her egoism was not to advocate the pursuit of one’s own interests at the expense of others’, but rather to reject the entire conflictual model of interests according to which “the happiness of one man necessitates the injury of another,” in favor of an older, more Aristotelean conception of self-interest as excellent human functioning.

It was on such Aristotelean grounds that she rejected not only the subordination of one’s own interests to those of others (and it is this, rather than mere benevolence, that she labeled “altruism”) but also the subordination of others’ interests to one’s own (which she labeled “selfishness without a self”). For Rand, the Aristotelean recognition of properly understood human interests as rationally harmonious was the essential foundation for a free society.

Misunderstood? Hardly. “Deliberately” misunderstood. Ah, selfishness! Rand advocated killing one’s neighbor, stealing his horse and taking his wife!

A few words on the film that is struggling in US theaters. If it was not obvious to the people who decided to have a nose vs. face moment w.r.t. it (graveyards are a riot compared to the publicity the “official” Randians have provided this film with), Atlas’s box office results are being viewed as a referendum on the relevance of Rand’s ideas. The only help it has received is from some quarters of the (lunatic!) right, and even that hasn’t helped very much. If this attempt fails, I sincerely doubt that anyone will bother with an encore. Why spend millions filming a polarizing novel which only appeals to twenty picky-as-hell people when one can make two billion dollars on Blue People 2, two more on Blue People 3, and then some more on Blue People Visit Mars!

Lumet

Sidney Lumet, director of films such as 12 Angry Men, Network, The Verdict and the more-or-less suppressed Strip Search, among others, is dead. From Salon’s obit

Sidney Lumet made movies for grownups. That’s the first thing and the last thing that should be said about this great American director, who died of lymphoma Friday night at the ripe old age of 86.

His long list of great, good, and otherwise notable films focuses mainly on personal morality within the context of social institutions: police departments, courts, media empires, the American economy and government: “Dog Day Afternoon.” “Serpico.” “Network.” “Prince of the City.” “The Pawnbroker.” “Twelve Angry Men.” “The Group.” “The Verdict.” “The Fugitive Kind.” “Fail Safe.” He was interested in the here and now — in how his fellow adults lived, loved and died, in boardrooms and courtrooms, in bedrooms, and on the streets. Escapism is one of the great, primal lures of moviegoing, but cinema also exists to confront and engage. That was Lumet’s preference, and he continued to indulge it long after Hollywood had retooled itself as a fun factory for teenagers; his gritty, detail-obsessed legal series “100 Centre Street” premiered on cable when he was 75, and his last movie, the coal-black, greed-infected domestic drama “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” came out in 2007, when he was 82. He never made a film about superheroes, extraterrestrials, or giant robots. He kept it real.

Also read the NYT obit and watch the accompanying “The Last Word” interview.

Normal

From an old New Yorker piece on Charlotte Rampling

“I generally don’t make films to entertain people,” Rampling said. “I choose the parts that challenge me to break through my own barriers. A need to devour, punish, humiliate, or surrender seems to be a primal part of human nature, and it’s certainly a big part of sex. To discover what normal means, you have to surf a tide of weirdness.”

And then, there’s the “ice queen” piece-

She had spent half a lifetime not just being looked at, but being exposed to gazes that were often sexual but rarely friendly. There is, after all, such a thing as hostility to beauty, an anger towards it on the part of those whom it most captivates.

No doubt, too, Rampling was sick of being imputed with a personality that was not hers. The critic David Thomson was typical and perceptive about this misunderstanding in her entry for his Biographical Dictionary of Film. “She has not just a chilly edge,” he wrote, “but the capacity to make us suspect a cold heart. So, she has her share of narrow-faced villains, not always more than baleful gargoyles.”

It was almost as though she was seen not as a woman but as an ice queen, with a perfectly frozen bone structure and terrifyingly beautiful hooded eyes….

[…]

Think of her as the passive, damaged Nazi victim who meets her former concentration camp commandant after the war in Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter. There, she was a sadist’s wet dream. Or recall her as the beautiful-but-crazy Dorrie, Woody Allen’s muse in Stardust Memories, the 1980 film in which she gave us a compelling account of mental breakdown in a film ostensibly about a narcissistic comedian’s neuroses. Or remember her as Paul Newman’s cold-hearted betrayer in Sidney Lumet’s The Verdict (what was its verdict? Treachery is woman).

In all these films, the director’s desire to use her beauty to create something (a muse, a victim, a ball-breaker) had more to do with their psychodrama than Rampling’s. The real Charlotte Rampling, whoever that was, slipped away unnoticed.

A predetermined life

I found this news report yesterday-

An increasing number of parents are getting their children to undergo a DNA test to determine what they might do best as adults. Such tests in the United States and Europe have progressed to be able to determine the child’s potential IQ, memory power and temperament, parents here and elsewhere in India have started using “sports genetics” to ascertain what sport their children will do best in when they grow up. Doctors use information extracted from the so-called “sports gene” to predict what kind of game the child do best in as an adult.

It makes one feel uneasy because it’s a small, thoughtless, leap from this to genetic determinism, conflating probability with certainty, which immediately brings to mind Gattaca.

“No one exceeds his potential,” the character played by Gore Vidal says. “If he did?” Then “it would simply mean that we did not accurately gauge his potential in the first place.” There’s an essay on the implications of such determinism that the wiki article on the film links to. It makes very good reading.