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Waringing – SPOILERS all over the place. This is written from the assumption that everyone who reads it will have seen the film

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There can be no doubt that FANTASIA is one of the most beautiful movies ever done. At the same time, one visual image in the central "Sorcerer's Apprentice" episode struck me intensely. The movie was produced in 1940, when the world war - begun in 1935 in Africa, in 1937 in East Asia, in in 1939 in Europe - was lapping dangerously at the shores of the United States. Well, the repeated images of those murderous enchanted brooms marching in line, violently lit in a very strong contrast of light and shadow, brought forcibly to my mind the idea of armies on the march. I certainly don't say that Disney or his employees intended "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" for an allegory of contemporary politics; its point, if any, is far more general and quite timeless. But I don't think there is any doubt that the images they used carried those overtones. Such images at such a time could not but carry a very strong message of concern and danger - real, immediate danger, fear that was a daily affair. World War Two is history to us; it was a direct concern in their lives to them.

So how does Disney resolve this frightening image of the violence then seizing the world, of the wave of destruction which is lapping even at Mickey Mouse's calm suburban America? Why, Daddy comes home. The Sorcerer had simply been gone a while; he comes back, takes in, in an instant, what had happened, and puts an end to it with no more than three dramatic gesture. And to complete the parallel with the life and mind of a child, Mickey does Bambi eyes at him to try and charm his way out of a well-deserved punishment, and gets his bottom warmed for his pains. A splendid sequence; but a sequence that expresses, to my mind, nothing so much as a desire to regress from the difficulties and fears of the contemporary adult world into a safe, familiar world where Daddy takes care of everything - even if Daddy takes care of spanking your botty, too.

This is in effect infantilism, an attempt to transform the real world into a nursery. Several years earlier, Disney had been guilty, in another masterpiece (THE THREE LITTLE PIGS) of a distortion nearly as bad and even more heartless. This cartoon is indubitably about the great depression, and, unlike that FANTASIA scene, nobody can doubt that the point is conscious and deliberate. Not only is "to have the wolf at your door" an ancient expression for being dangerously in debt or poor, but the wise pig insists on the concept. If you build your house of bricks, you'll be safe and not be sorry when the wolf comes to your door. The problem with the other two pigs is that they could not be bothered to build their houses solidly enough first, before running off to have fun. Now this is not really a very good account of what went wrong with US and international economy in the late twenties, but it is particularly bad when you realize that it is aimed not at the societal leadership but at the common man. There is no evidence whatever that the average American of the twenties had been any less hard-working or any more of a wastrel than that of any other time; and to suggest that the catastrophe was caused by improvidence is not only wrong, it is positively insulting. It is a slap in the face of all those Americans who, throughout the twenties, had effectively worked, saved and invested - done the real-life equivalent of building their house of brick - only to see their life savings destroyed by the collapse of the whole banking system. The Great Depression actually punished saving and sensible investment, rewarding those who had either stuffed their dollars in their mattresses or spent them as they made them. To preach, in 1934 or so, the virtues of thrift and hard work, as a panacea to "keep the wolf away from your door," is utterly beside the point.

It may be that the Great Depression was Disney's original sin. He did very well out of it, and naturally did not want to look too hard into what had caused it. It was only because of the Depression that he was able to hire hundreds of the best artists in America when word went round that one man in Burbank was in fact hiring. People came from all the forty-eight states, and Disney could pick the best. And mind you, he was a good employer, paid well, rewarded effort and talent, and made people feel as though they were part of something important. Certainly nobody in Hollywood at the time could be remotely so certain that what they were doing would go down in history, as those who took part in, say, the creation of SNOW-WHITE. But, at the same time, he had taken advantage of something that had ruined his countrymen. I wonder whether he was running away from this.

So there you have it. A great artist, indubitably; but also a dangerous infantilist, whose view is time and time again over-simplified and damaging. How do we look at him?

Poor Peyo

Sep. 6th, 2011 02:19 pm
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At least he is dead. I have never in my life seen anything that shows so certain a prospect of utter catastrophe as the posters of the Smurfs movie. It is going to be a horror as surely as people breathe air. From the horrendously unsuited Pixar-like three-dimensional animation, that morphs Peyo's charming linework into soapy, rubbery dolls, to the urban setting - all the Smurf stories are set in their little mushroom village, which supplies all the comic and dramatic opportunities they need - to the Smurfette's ghastly sunglasses, everything breathes the spirit of utter misunderstanding, vulgarization, stupidity, and waste. What's the betting that there are vulgar jokes?
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Not that I wish any more years of Gheddafi on anyone, but the hypocrisy spouted on all sides about his refusal to budge and resolution to fight it out to the death beggars belief. The behaviour of the UN, in which he had been prominent until a few weeks ago, is nothing short of sickening; one ie reminded of a pack of vile, yapping mongrels baring their fangs without daring to get close, as a wounded wild boar is charging and turning and plunging and fighting for his life. All the people who are now passing confiscation resolutions, orders against travel, condemnations, Hague Court denunciations and so on - not to mention the vicious breed of journalists - were licking his bloody hands no later than ten days ago. There would be something poetic, though not of course reassuring, if he managed to give them all the slip.

A few years ago, Dame Helen Mirren was awarded the best actress Oscar virtually by acclamation for her performance as the current Queen. Tonight, by all reports, it will be Colin Firth's turn; should he ever, for any reason, fail to get crowned, there will be front-page headlines in five or six continents, howling HE WUZ ROBBED! Not that either performer did not deserve it (both, too, were playing against type, being handsome and expected to play dowdy and retiring types); bot doesn't one get a sense that American and world audiences really have an especial kind of fondness for British actors playing British sovereigns? One might almost suspect that the trauma of the disloyalty of 1776, however good its reasons, had never quite died down. It's all a bit Oedypal.

Now for the nastiest subject by far - sorry, Colonel Gheddafi, but it's far nastier than even you can hope to be. After all, even after you have ceased to shed blood, whether your enemies have caught you and hanged you, or whether you have managed to break them on the battlefield and eventually died on your bed as some murderers have managed, British doctors will still be killing babies. Where abortion is concerned, Britain is a one-party state, where any opposition to the practice will ruin your career with mathematical certainty if you happen to work anywhere near the NHS or the social services, and of course stick you with the deadly brand - nothing deadlier in island society - of religious nutter. And yet - and yet. For a while, I think for a year or so now, there have come noises from the profession of butchers, sorry, doctors, that suggest anger and unease - as though the butchers felt some sort of phantom grip fastening on their hands. It is not that anyone is showing visible doubt or nervousness. Nobody so much as suggests that any pressure against abortion might be perceived. But if none is felt, then why are the professional bodies of butchers, sorry, doctors, becoming shriller and shriller? At the end of June last year, the Royal College Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) released, in its own name and with all the chrism of officiality, a so-called report, claiming that a 24-week-old foetus is incapable of feeling pain. This, mind you, in an age when hundreds of premature babies are brought out at 24 weeks and survive, and the mothers of these children, let alone the nurses and doctors, are capable of seeing with their own eyes that the child does in fact feel and react. It is not even a matter of what you see on a scan screen: it is a matter of hundreds, of thousands of women who have seen, heard, held in their own hand, a child of that age, and been able to see it with their own eyes and hear it with their own ears. I don't think it unfair to say that such an act, such a report, from such a body, is evidence of a collective pathology. And today, only a few months after, the very same body, RCOG, redoubled the evidence for collective mental illness by issuing guidelines - a word which, in the UK, means something almost as binding as laws - that claim for a woman to have an abortion is safer than to have a child. The crazed quality of this was so evident that even BBC journalist Andrew Marr, usually the humblest and most undeviating servant of Political Correctness, was heard to say that perhaps it was not quite as safe for the child. I can only conclude that, although the petrifying force of obstinacy and consensus still don't allow an ordinary observer like myself to see it, these people are scared; nothing except terror can explain the shrill tone and the sheer irrationality of these statements.
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Jennifer Aniston is a serial failure in relationships. No man has stayed with her long enough to start a family. No wonder she feels so happy about the existence of IVF.

But, given her box-office and critical record, I bet she wishes that a movie-hit version of IVF existed, so that one could have artificial movie hits when the dumb public and nasty critics deny you a natural one.
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There are two things I mind: that Nick Park's subscription to the Oscars seems to have lapsed, and best supporting actor for someone from a Quentin Tarantino film. Otherwise, it seems to me that the right people got the right awards.
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"You may skimp on the writing as much as you like. As long as it looks gorgeous and feels self-righteous, who cares if it has a story."
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I never did like the land of banks and... banks; tell me whether I have no reason. Everyone knows that Roman Polanski's conviction for child sex in 1978 was a scandal, arranged by a publicity-hungry, corrupt judge who connived with the prosecution in defiance of all law. Not that Polanski was an angel, but even prosecution lawyers have since admitted that the trial was what Bob Dylan would have called a "pig-circus", and that a much more lenient sentence would have been just. So when Polanski fled to France, the US authorities did not make any real effort to have him extradited. Everyone concerned with the trial was ashamed. Now, thirty-one years after the show-trial, the Swiss authorities, for reasons best known to themselves, have entrapped Polanski into visiting Switzerland for a cinema festival and arrested him on the 31-year-old warrant. I am no fan of men who have sex with minors, but this stinks. The Swiss would do better to arrest their own villains, like the filth who murders for hire in the so-called Dignity clinic. And let's not even get on their banking business.
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Why is it that every teen-age starlet turned out by Walt Disney turns out, as soon as she turns 16 (or even sooner) to be a committed public tart?
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I see. They like it because it makes mass murder and cannibalism entertaining. Well, as a historian, I have had enough of that in my subject, and I must say that I do not see the fun in it. Hollywood, however, does, ever since The Silence of the Lambs and Fried Green Tomatoes. But then, an industry that relies on the regular destruction of its own personnel may not have any trouble with cannibalism. I wonder - has anyone ever checked the ingredients in Hollywood restaurants and caterers?
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When it was a matter of getting herself some publicity, Nicole Kidman got herself married to her current partner in a Catholic church, and in white, yet. You may remember my cynicism on the matter.

Now she takes the protagonist role in the movie of Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass, and even has the cheek to assure us that as she is so profoundly Catholic, she would never take a Catholic-bashing role, and therefore we may be sure that this is not a Catholic-bashing story at all.

I was insufficiently cynical about Ms.Kidman. It seems clear that her "Catholic" identity is nothing more than an asset to be spent in public when convenient for her and her employers. She is a cold, conscious, deliberate liar. And incidentally, Philip Pullman, who seems to have deliberately toned down his rants against God and the Church for the occasion of this movie's release, comes across as nearly as unprincipled.
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Helen McCrory. Look, I don't care how good an actress this is, this is an obvious stitch-up. She was supposed to play Bellatrix last time and got pregnant, so they had to bring Helena Bonham-Carter instead - and I for one am not complaining. But evidently either Ms. McCrory or whoever is her protector is owed a favour, since some moron has announced that she is going to play Narcissa. Is effin' Hollywood colour-blind these days? Narcissa is so pale and blonde she looks like she shines in the dark in the Spinner's End episode. Her utter unlikeness to her sister is stressed. This is the second bloody time that a character described as a natural blonde is given to a most unlikely-looking bottle blonde for no discernible reason. The first was Jessica Alba in FAntastic Four, playing a blonde character from a blonde family with the Nordic name Storm. She looked like a million dollars - in three-dollar bills. Are natural blondes no longer being born, or have they gone out of style?

This may seem a strange thing to get mad about, but characters have their integrity. Even if you are playing something as vile as Wonder Woman - a character I loathe - it would be wrong to cast her as a long, lean redhead in a skirt, shirt and tie. And Narcissa Malfoy and Sue Storm Richards are characters who were designed to have a very definite look; to alter the look is to alter the character, and it is being done for no better reason than because someone in Hollywood is owed a favour.
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I wrote this essay some years ago. I still think it is interesting, and besides it has something to do with my remarks (to follow) about JK Rowling.

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Well, well, well. It seems that my rooted detestation of Frank Miller and all his criminal works roused more interest among my friends than any other controversial idea I could toss at them. Well, then, on your own heads be it.

I have a deep, personal, vindictive hatred for Frank Miller, the cartoonist who originated 300Read more... )
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Some of you may remember what I said about Hollywood's attitude to sex, which is a part of the ideology and structure of that particular social group. I was reminded of it when reading a description of an astonishingly unsatisfactory movie: Rumor Has It, a PG-13 item featuring two specialists in failed projects, Kevin Costner and Jennifer Aniston. (Honestly, when was the last time that either of them had a real hit?) The plot? Jennifer Aniston is engaged but has cold feet. She wonders whether her father is really her father, since her mother had had sex with the Kevin Costner character 9 months before her birth. And in a development that would count as stupendously gratuitous and pandering, were it not that it is an evident attempt to raise the ghost of sixties classic The Graduate, he has had sex with Aniston's mother's mother in his time, too.

The attempt to raise the ghost of Mike Nichols' masterpiece is clear, committed, and entirely hopeless. What kills it stone dead, of course, is the evidence that director, scriptwriter and actors absolutely do not understand what The Graduate was about. Start with the choice of romantic hero: Dustin Hoffman, is a bumbling, barely formed young man who blunders into Mrs.Robinson's bed pretty much because he is told to, and is surrounded by a mass of complete hypocrites, of which Mr. and Mrs.Robinson are the worst. The moral of the story is that his final elopement with the daughter is pretty much the only thing he does right after allowing himself to be led up and down and all around and humiliated and as near as possible ruined by a gaggle of self-regarding, hollow suburbanites whose vanity takes the place of healthy self-respect. When Dustin Hoffman runs away with Katharine Ross, he is regaining his own individuality, self-respect, even liberty. Although the movie ends with a realistically doubtful tone, as the lovebirds look on a whole crowd of old folks and wonder whether their own life will be like that, nevertheless the clear implication is that they have committed themselves to each other for life.

Now see how every one of these premises is perverted by Rumor has it. First, in place of bumbling, big-nosed Hoffman, we have handsome Kevin Costner - who is super-rich too, a billionaire, well above the modest bourgeois affluence of The Graduate's suburbia, and has made his money in the ultra-cool world of Silicon Valley. Second, both his relationships have been passing fancies. Then we have it laid on us that this super-successful capitalist is in awe of Che Guevara - another attempt to reconnect to the sixties and get them wrong. And there is the fact that the odious two-faced witch Mrs. Robinson, a monster - and a very credible monster - in the original movie, is played by Shirley MacLaine as a loveable old eccentric, and everything she has done is justified; which completely overturns the point of The Graduate. Final cherry on the cake, Costner is sterile and cannot be Anniston's father: a development not only typical of this film's total lack of understanding of The Graduate, but also suggestive of its own spiritual death. The story in The Graduate was that of a couple of young people deciding, in the face of all the world, to face the responsibilities of life together, to marry and presumably have babies; Rumor has it informs us that said commitment did not exist, could not exist, and that the romantic protagonist is incapable of procreation. At least, he tells Anniston, his possible daughter, so.

Next scene: they have sex. Climax of the movie. Anniston's big romantic love moment. Big satisfaction. Much better than her pointless fiance' Mark Ruffalo. Are we impressed? We are supposed to be impressed.

The overtones of spiritual incest - Anniston has spent a long time wondering whether Costner is her physical father - are scarcely more disgusting than the clear implication that male sterility is an advantage, that allows the handsome romantic lead to have sex with his a woman young enough to be his daughter and feel no regret. Because, of course, if you do not put your partner in danger of having babies (such an unwelcome thing, babies), then sex does not count; or rather, is only and wholly positive. We need not bother that this overwhelming Lothario Costner has had sex with grandma, mom and daughter, since daughter Anniston finds the whole thing so very romantic. And this, if you please, is a PG-13. "In praise of having no balls." (Incidentally, Anniston's real father character did once kick the Costner character between the legs in high school - a thought that has a somewhat satisfying quality.)

As one critic pointed out, the film - which is generally and shamelessly made of quotations - has a Quentin Tarantino moment when a few peripheral characters begin discussing movies, classic movies--Chinatown, Casablanca, the Graduate. One asks, "why don't movies like this get made anymore?" However, when Tarantino pulled this sort of stunt, he was much too clever to do it in such a way as to expose the breathtaking emptiness of his movies.
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My post of five days ago, about Kate Moss, has generated more reaction than I imagined, especially from two members of my f-list. I am, however, unhappy at some of the features of their debate; and I think it is time - as the starter of the thread, the man-in-charge of this blog, and a person, since age has been mentioned, older than either of you - to call for order in this debate. It has got rather more rancorous than I like. And it has gone on sterile, unprofitable ground, far away from its original point.

I will begin by administering both of you a spanking. If you wanna get mad, I will give you reason to get mad at me, instead of at each other.Read more... )

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