I can be critical of Jon Stewart, but this is the funniest take down of religious pundit idiots I’ve seen in quite a while.
Heartfelt desperation from investigative reporter Andre Vitchek. All the facts and truth in the world can’t sway western ignorami into doing the right thing. Perhaps it’s going to get a lot worse.
The Boston bombing story has had so many anomalies and problems, that I doubt any honest person can claim to know what really went down last April. WhoWhatWhy investigates the carjacking witness, “DANNY,” the sole source whose statements implicated Tamerlan and Dzhokar as not only the bombers but also allegedly the murderers of a police officer that night.
Don’t let this slip down the Memory Hole. This is how modern coups succeed. They create violence, and the US / corporate media blames the targeted government for said violence (as in Libya, Syria and now Ukraine), when in fact the violence is caused by rogue elements in the anti-government coup itself. This pattern repeats over and over again, and the US presstitute media covers the story wrongly 100% of the time, never retracting, never setting the record straight. We now inhabit a fictional geo-politcal reality where our co-citizens have no idea whatsoever what actually went on.
“And second, what was quite disturbing, this same Olga [Bogomolets] told as well that all the evidence shows that the people who were killed by snipers from both sides, among policemen and then people from the streets, that they were the same snipers killing people from both sides,” the Estonian FM stressed.
The Estonian FM has described the whole sniper issue as “disturbing” and added, “it already discredits from the very beginning” the new Ukrainian power.
One company is Phantom Secure, a Canadian-based seller of encrypted Blackberries.
Standard fearmongering playbook has the Australian government rallying the public against privacy and encryption. What should have been the default: privacy for all, is now the source of dread and panic because SHOCK! There are criminals in the world! Did you know this?
We are all to be treated as criminals and under surveillance, and we should accept life in the digital goldfish bowl.
Los Angeles progressive radio has really stunned me with its one sided coverage of Ukraine and the Russian response (Sunday, Background Briefing, 11am). Guests and the host, Ian Masters, are calling for US imperial actions against Russia and ignoring the US roles in both Ukraine and in Syria, presenting a fake history of what has just happened last week! The real complaints of the Russians are snidely dismissed without any vetting of the facts. Some amazingly counter-factual pronouncements, and they place all blame for the Neo-Nazi led violent coup d’tat of Ukraine on Russia.
The pro-imperial spin of Masters has always been questionable, but openly cheerleading for empire and Obama to escalate the prospect of World War 3 is intolerable. It is no secret that Obama’s officials openly brag about funding and sponsoring the insurrection in Ukraine that deposed the legitimately elected government there. The one-sided, US approved so-called alternative analysis couldn’t have been better scripted by Victoria Nuland herself.
“We’ve invested $5 billion… as we take Ukraine into the future it deserves.”
-Assistant Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland
A former National Security Council official, on the Council of Foreign Relations no less, got the mic to make the US anti-Russian offensive sound reasonable. No disclosures of actual US covert actions across the region nor the history of Western sponsored “color revolutions” gets a mention. This is blatant propaganda, by Pacifica / Ian Masters and his carefully selected guest lineup. Apparently everything that has happened in Ukraine to date is the sole fault of Vladimir Putin, despite Victoria Nuland admitting to “five billion dollars” spent on the Ukrainian uprising, and John McCain shaking hands with the Neo-Nazi coup leader Tyahnybok.
The US and its allies have provoked the violence with firebombs and arson across Kiev for strategic reason. The US wants Ukraine back in NATO and lined up against Russia. The Neo-Nazi shock troops stormed the government buildings under the cover of a wider demonstration. This was classic destabilization, as seen in Iran, Syria and many locations where the US funds violent extremists to destabilize unfriendly regimes. This is not difficult to investigate. Evidence is not that hard to find – they openly brag about it! But it doesn’t get mentioned, curiously, and the picture is painted in red, white and blue primary colors.
A hint of light at the end of the show when Jeremy Scahill showed up to pitch his film Dirty Wars. Scahill made some reasonable points, but he included some other spin particularly on 9/11 and on Obama’s presumed good intentions. Masters, however, would be a valuable intelligence asset, and has been a fixture on so-called alternative airwaves for a long time. He has long been an attack dog against investigating 9/11, much like Chomsky. The credibility and independence of these people are questionable.
So the family dragged me to Thor: The Dark World, which I immediately sensed was unwatchable. Crap action movie cliches, the same stuff from the first film, one-liners, pomp and overacting. To top it off, the speakers were pushed so loud that audio was blatantly distorted.
So I left, to go check out Anchorman 2 instead.
Listening to the story of Thor, in the car ride home, it seems so bad as to be beyond parody. Evil elves, the powerful malignant malakabop of some sort. Loki and Thor, Loki bad, Loki good. Odin good, bad, ugly, blah, blah. The best part of the entire experience was in getting to the theater late and being spared the commercials and trailers.
Anchorman 2 is the stupidest, most offensively dumb movie I can recall. Certainly the stupidest big budget movie I’ve ever seen. There’s no excuse really: they’ve had a decade since the last one to come up with something worthwhile and funny. This was neither. So many scenes were painful from the get go. Then they keep hammering them home like a bad Saturday Night Live marathon of all the worst skits. The idiots attempt to make a point about dumbed down non-news sold as news to the dumbed down public, for what it’s worth.
I would have stayed home altogether, but it’s been a month and a half since the last decent movie. How does this business stay afloat pushing such garbage nonstop?
US and NATO sponsored uprisings in Ukraine have exploded into violence and arson. Mother Jones shows its true colors by ignoring the Western covert role in the violence, and the US record in causing mischief across the region.
So-called “alternative media” in the US, connected to shady foundation funding, continually press the empire’s geoppolitical agenda.
Paul Craig Roberts responds:
As I reported on February 12, “Washington Orchestrated Protests Are Destabilizing Ukraine.” Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, a rabid Russophobe and neoconservative warmonger, told the National Press Club last December that the US has “invested” $5 billion in organizing a network to achieve US goals in Ukraine in order to give “Ukraine the future it deserves.” Nuland is the Obama regime official who was caught red-handed naming the members of the Ukrainian government Washington intends to impose on the Ukrainian people once the paid protesters have unseated the current elected and independent government.
Empire is covert as well as overt.
by Joseph E. Green (with permission)
Of the top thirty grossing films on this world list, there are two films which do not really fit the mold. They are Titanic, by this measure the most popular movie in the history of the world, and Forrest Gump. Much has been written about Titanic, both pro and con, and William Goldman even went so far as to say that it deserved the Oscar for its screenplay – despite the banal dialogue – because the structure of the screenplay was such that it carried audiences to (for many) an emotionally devastating conclusion. That is, if structure is screenplay, then no other structure was as successful that year.[i] It may be useful to briefly analyze Titanic for a moment, because from the first time I saw it, I was struck by how calculating it was for the audience. The character played by Leonardo DiCaprio is a street-smart young man, struggling with no money, but possessed of roguish charm, good sense, good looks, and a disdain for snobbery. Lead characters in popular movies frequently have such characteristics, and if they can snap off a wisecrack or two so much the better, as with the John McClane character in the Die Hard pictures. In addition to all this, there are rich snobs (most notably the one played – in a performance so inane it approaches a kind of surrealism – by Billy Zane) to contrast to DiCaprio’s inherent goodness. The Kate Winslet character comes from the upper-class world, and although used to the accoutrements of a comfortable existence she nonetheless falls in love with penniless DiCaprio, thus earning audience empathy.
There are gargantuan fantasy elements here in the treatment of social class. Although somewhat unusual for an American film in that it recognizes the existence of social classes (albeit safely in the past rather the present), the presentation is infantile. Indeed, the politics of Titanic are no more complicated, nor is the love story substantially different from, the Disney film Lady and the Tramp.
In the last half of the picture, the ship meets its fate, crashing and coming apart in as effective and dramatic a fashion as possible for $250 million. There is some more heavy-handed attempt at social commentary, as DiCaprio races to save a group of people locked away at the bottom of the ship. However, this is mostly a backdrop to serve as further evidence of DiCaprio’s inherent heroism. Eventually both he and Winslet get off the ship, but he dies saving her life, leaving her with a lifetime of memories that haunt her forever – That Perfect Boy Who Saved Me. Besides being a fantasy vision of a real human relationship, of which there are none in the picture, the film operates in the sort of underlined drama that is easily translatable and therefore marketable to the people of the world: a world united in its desire for uncluttered sentiment in beautiful and dramatic surroundings.
Forrest Gump, the other oddity on the list of thirty, likewise uses big emotions and big symbols to get its points across, and is arguably one of the most insidious films ever made. The movie tells the story of the idiot Gump, played by the likable Tom Hanks, and his adventures in misunderstanding. Although uncomprehending of any single event that occurs to him, he manages to survive although almost everyone he knows dies or is maimed in some tragic event. At the end of the film, he delivers the signature line of the piece, in which he states that some people think we live in a godless, uncaring world, and some people think that a kindly God looks after us. Gump theorizes: “I…think it’s both.” Critic Roger Ebert found the film insightful:
As Forrest’s life becomes a guided tour of straight-arrow America, Jenny (played by Robin Wright) goes on a parallel tour of the counterculture… Eventually it becomes clear that between them Forrest and Jenny have covered all the landmarks of our recent cultural history, and the accommodation they arrive at in the end is like a dream of reconciliation for our society. What a magical movie.[ii]
The concept that Forrest Gump covers “all the landmarks of our recent cultural history” is so ludicrous as to be held in contempt. The film’s attempts at historical reference include such notable occurrences as the invention of the ‘smiley face’ and digitally placing the actor Hanks into existing footage of LBJ, for example. For Ebert to postulate that utopian societal reconciliation is depicted in the relationship between a mental deficient and a suicidal drug addict is lunacy. Nevertheless, audiences agreed with Ebert at some level, as indicated by its massive popularity. The themes of simplicity, happiness, an implied religiosity, and a participation in all of the key institutions of patriotic life are depicted in Forrest Gump. Gump is a successful football player, acquits himself well in Vietnam, always behaves in a simple, ostensibly moral fashion and even raises a child on his own. The fact that he learns nothing, is in fact incapable of learning, never made a dent in the fantasy-seeking audience. The most telling moment in the film occurs when Gump is enlisted into the army. A drill sergeant asks him what he should do. Gump answers: “Whatever you say, Sergeant.” To which the sergeant replies: “That is the most outstanding goddamn answer I’ve ever heard, Gump! You must be some kind of goddamn genius!” Of course. Gump is the perfect soldier and the perfect citizen, one who is happy and content in a world of meaningless symbols, following the orders of authorities and reveling in the wisdom of convention.
Screenwriters are aware of the conventions of film, and indeed in any Screenwriting 101 book you will find a description of the structure and techniques used to create characters for drama. Some characters can be dramatized and some cannot. If your lead is a shy, book-obsessed librarian, then your story had better be a romantic comedy about how an extroverted character gets the lead out of his or her shell. (E.g., Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; if Winslet had also been a nebbish, then there’s no movie.) A plot involving two bookish characters talking about books is, in the best of circumstances, an independent film made in verité style with no budget.
If you want your movie to appeal to a mass audience, it had better have explosive sequences, and they better be up front, in the first ten pages of script. Screenwriting guru Syd Field describes the ridiculous opening sequence of The Matrix (in which a woman dressed in black leaps across tall buildings to elude the Bad Guys) with “Whoa…if that’s not a grabber, I don’t know what is.”[iii] A good example of this convention is illustrated in the James Bond films, which typically begin with some bit of excitement unrelated to the main plot.
A standard script has 120 pages, as one page of correctly formatted script corresponds roughly to one minute of screen time. Field goes on to dissect the formula script as one which has three acts. These consist of the Set Up (pages1-30), followed by what he terms Plot Point I, the Confrontation (pages 30-90), Plot Point II, and then the Resolution (pages 90-120). A plot point, according to Field, is an incident in the story that causes action or changes the direction or flow of the action.[iv] Different books have different names for these contrivances, but almost 100% of all film scripts follow this pattern. It is therefore quite easy for someone familiar with the structure to instantly deduce the plot from a trailer, or even a two-sentence description or poster in some cases. The flow of a given picture generally follows an arc in which the lead character is revealed to have a problem or weakness in the first act which is resolved in the final act. For example:
For Cliffhanger, Sylvester Stallone – always a strong protector of his popular character – insisted on adding the opening scene, in which his high mountain ranger fails and a girl falls to her death. This destroyed his [i.e., Stallone’s character] confidence, which he was then able to recover (redeem) his heroic actions in the subsequent story.[v]
Redemption is a highly popular dramatic motif. It is present in virtually all sports films: Remember the Titans, Miracle, Pride, The Natural, etc. Romantic comedies start with a character that has a certain problem which is resolved by the other person. The ending of such films typically has the male and female leads gazing into one another’s eyes before kissing and then fade-out. In bad romantic films, Plot Point II is often the female lead seeing the made lead in some activity that seems morally disreputable but is actually explained by information the audience has and the female lead, by various contrivances, doesn’t. (For example, she walks in on him when he seems to be kissing another girl, but in reality he is fending off her advances, or it’s a goodbye kiss after he’s explains how much he loves the heroine, etc.) In the movie French Kiss, Meg Ryan thinks that Kevin Kline has slept with a dynamite French girl but it turns out he couldn’t go through with it because he inexplicably preferred Ryan. And so on.
Denny Flinn offers the following advice to budding screenwriters: “Think of a Hollywood movie as a good roller coaster ride,”[vi] and “Don’t leave anything unresolved.”[vii] Exactly. The bulk of Hollywood films are meant to be enjoyed as one enjoys ice cream. This generally applies even to “social event” films or “Oscar” type films. They employ a different motif, but the structure is just as present, albeit often with better acting (though not always) and slightly altered music cues. A great many Oscar-winning films have the same characteristics noted by Denny Flinn, in that they present a roller coaster ride in which everything is resolved. A Beautiful Mind, American Beauty, The English Patient, The Departed, Gladiator, Crash, the aforementioned Gump, and numerous others have these qualities.
Another typical screenwriting how-to book was written by Tom Lazarus, author of the screenplay for Stigmata. He insists that screenwriters place the lead character at the center of every scene: “We pay the actor who plays the lead the most money and we want to see him front and center.”[viii] He agrees with Flinn on endings: “Endings should answer all questions, tie up all loose ends.”[ix] And he proposes a structure for the screenplay that resembles attention-deficit disorder: “You want to present to your reader very different images on the end of one scene and on the beginning of the next scene.”[x] This is a very interesting note, and it is reflected in modern films, with their vernacular of the “smash cut” (meaning a “hard” or especially disorienting cut to a different scene) and their emphasis on constant movement. The result of this can sometimes be an entire film that looks like a two-hour commercial, as in City of Angels, which from a dramatic standpoint appeared to be selling insurance, and The Constant Gardener, which employed techniques learned from television commercials to painful effect in annihilating the otherwise compelling story. It also specifically encourages the constant disorientation of the reader (or viewer) as a means of maintaining attention. This extraordinary note reflects the raw speed of the visual world presented to us on a daily basis via television and the internet. With fewer and fewer people able to maintain any level of extended concentration, the focus moves to a constant flow of unrelated invention, a perpetual startling of the viewer. Thus screenplays (and their accompanying films) begin, more and more, to look like someone flipping channels randomly on a television set – as in the Charlie’s Angels films, for example.
Most amusingly, in Lazarus’s book he takes a firm moral tone with regard to cinematic violence. He castigates Saving Private Ryan for the “disgusting” and “unrelenting gore.”[xi] However, several pages later, he describes a meeting he took with the creators of the television program Hunter, a cop show. He earned this meeting due to his yeoman work on the David Hasselhoff series Knight Rider. He describes himself pitching an idea for a story for Hunter, about “pornography and snuff films” to be called – no kidding – Rape and Revenge. The idea is accepted with enthusiasm.[xii]
In the course of this series, The Paranoid Style in American Cinema, I have tried to select what I think our examples of skilful filmmaking that, given the restrictions of the medium, have enlightened an American history that, in a paradoxical sense, is kept alive by it. There is a war of perspectives going on, with attendant attempts to bury the past in iconography. Even when political considerations are not uppermost, in any adaptation from life, complexity is often the first thing to go due to the nature of films.
The films I’ve selected for analysis are all from the period after World War II to the present. Whereas the establishment, with its police, military authority, and impenetrable sense of order had been viewed primarily as working for Good, by the end of the fifties cracks began to show. A few films began to question the premises behind the Cold War, for example, and then following the Kennedy assassination a number of films were made questioning the value of the military industrial complex and whether the “American Way” was American at all. These films still moved ahead against the grain, however, digging their way into the stubborn mainstream, often disobeying the conventions of both the larger society and the cinematic language itself.
Perhaps paradoxically, I wish to draw upon the work of a Jewish Biblical scholar as a model for my tasks in this book. In The Death of Jesus, Joel Carmichael outlines his approach for reviewing the Gospel material of the Bible. He first notes that all of the Gospels had been heavily edited and altered in the centuries following the time of Christ. Indeed, certain books had been deemed non-canonical, such as the Gospel of Thomas and so on. Now this editing and structuring had the political point of asserting a universalizing Pauline Jesus rather than a Jewish prophet. It is a kind of literary transubstantiation in which an obscure (and historically dubious) figure from a Jewish sect bent on political revolution becomes a worldwide Savior. However, during the process of this editorializing, not all of the original content conflicting with editorial preference could be removed, due to the fact that some stories and events were too well-known. He thus adopts a methodology for reviewing the original texts:
This theme is basic in any study of Christian origins; it will be reverted to often as our inquiry proceeds.
We shall examine the multiple, disparate elements woven into the Gospels under the influence of this double shift of perspective – theological and historical.
This will give us our cardinal criterion: Anything that conflicts with this transformation of perspective is likely to be true.
That is, any fragment we can manage to isolate that runs counter to the prevailing Gospel tendency of exalting Jesus, of preaching his universality, and of emphasizing his originality, will be regarded as ipso facto probable (other things, of course, being equal).[xiii]
Carmichael’s readings thus attach importance to incongruity in the text – those odd moments and incidents which seldom are discussed during sermon. He identifies and highlights the events that swim upstream from the general narrative. This is what I have tried to do in the context of these political films – identify those going in the wrong direction, isolate the reasons why, and identify the truths that lie behind that movement.
My particular concerns throughout this series will be to connect each film to its real-life inspirations (and, often, its correct predictions, as in The Parallax View and Network). I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the bulk of the films I explore were made in the 1970’s – besides being a golden age of American film in general, it is also the golden age for realistic adult films of the macroscopic type, the film of social analysis. The adult world was put aside, seemingly forever, with the explosion of Star Wars and its imitators, but it seems as though such films are making a comeback, with the assistance of George Clooney. This is perhaps a hopeful sign in a United States which seems to have forgotten its history – even its most recent experiences with Watergate, Iran-Contra and beyond.
[i] William Goldman, The Big Picture (Applause Books: New York 2001), 241.
[ii] Roger Ebert, Roger Ebert’s Four-Star Reviews, 1967-2007 (Andrews McMeel Publishing LLC: Kansas City 2007), 265.
[iii] Syd Field, Screenplay (Random House: New York 2005), 152.
[iv] Ibid, 200-201.
[v] Denny Martin Flinn, How Not to Write a Screenplay (Watson-Guphill Publications: New York 1999), 172-173.
[vi] Ibid, 152.
[vii] Ibid, 164.
[viii] Tom Lazarus, Secrets of Film Writing (St. Martin’s Press: New York 2001), 96.
[ix] Ibid, 144.
[x] Ibid, 170.
[xi] Ibid, 178.
[xii] Ibid, 192.
[xiii] Joel Carmichael, The Death of Jesus (Barnes & Noble Books: New York 1995 ), 12.