Thursday, July 30, 2009

Let's go to the movies!

I’m tired of politics. I’ve said everything relevant to date, and feel rather drained, as well as retaining doubts about saying The Red Herring=Hitler. (I believe it, but sounding like one of Rush Limbaugh’s “mind-numbed robots” through repetition will not make a single convert to conservatism among the ranks of those who think style vs. substance is more meaningful than rational analysis.)

Let’s go to the movies!

During The Great Depression of 1929-early 1942, the one uniquely American industry that thrived was the movies. The more bizarre and depressing things became; the more people sought refuge in what my hero, Jimmy Stewart, called “a few hours of freedom.” 1939 is now regarded as the golden year of filmmaking’s achievements. Such classics as “Gone with the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz” come immediately to mind, and are recognizable even to today’s MP-3 generation. I have known Yankees who think “Gone with the Wind” is a documentary.

As a rule, I hate remakes. Most of them are rancid regurgitations of TV programs from the 1960s. One or two remakes made me chuckle, but I am hard-pressed to name them. They blew past and popped like soap bubbles on a summer day. Martin Scorsese's version of "Cape Fear" is an exception, and Roger Donaldson's remake of "The Getaway" was a noble attempt at a daunting task, but for the most part remakes are garbage.

Until a few weeks ago, I was blissfully unaware that anyone had attempted a remake of “Vanishing Point”. For those readers unfamiliar with the original, it is referenced repeatedly in the second half of Quentin Tarantino’s “Grindhouse” duet; the “Deathproof” segment involving tough chicks, Kurt Russell, and fast cars.

The original 1971 production—directed by Richard Sarafian—was a ‘70s minimalist classic wrapped around a car chase flick. It was the road trip from Hell. It reflected what many of us who lived through the 1970s believed; religion is cynical, the cops are dumb, racist pigs, and speed—both the pharmaceutical and literal kind—kills. Oh, and love hurts. Richard Nixon had just taken over, and heroin had replaced LSD as the drug of choice.

I wince repeatedly watching “Deathproof”, because Tarantino tears up what are now classic cars in his homage. Constant Readers know I am a fan, and former owner, of classic cars from the “muscle” days.

The word-of-mouth buzz around the original “Vanishing Point” was that Barry [Kowalski] Newman had to get intensive driving lessons during the production, because he was a New York-based actor, and didn’t know how to drive. That story may have been apocryphal, but it was a good one.

The original “Vanishing Point” was nihilistic to the extreme. I won’t give “spoilers” to those who would care to view the original for the first time, but the climax was a depressing question: “What’s the use? Why should we live with this?”

I credit “Vanishing Point” with my love for fast cars, and my attendant scofflaw attitude toward speed limits. To this day, nothing turns me on like hundreds of unrestrained horsepower loosed by a leaden foot with total disregard for the law. (Adult-type warning, kids: I have had professional-driver training; you should never do this with even one beer under your belt; and it’s only safe in the wee hours of the morning on empty roads. And if the cops catch you, you have to take the ticket and show up for court without any back-talk.)

So, some decades later, some programming genius at CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] makes an unholy deal to remake “Vanishing Point.” They followed the original script for about a minute, then devolved into some politically-correct, touchy-feely made-for-TV garbage-fest about a devoted father trying to get home to his pregnant wife before she gives birth. The black DJ “Super Soul” was replaced with “a Native American mystic” claiming the psychic connection to the fugitive Kowalski. There is even a condescending preface about a ’71 Dodge Challenger being “an American classic car” that should not be scratched or dented during the aborted delivery run. (The original Kowalski was supposed to deliver said Challenger from Denver to San Francisco, and doubled-down a bet with his drug dealer he’d make the deadline. Nobody was birthing babies in that version.)

The final insult was a suggestion from the CBC remake’s narrator that “Kowalski” somehow walked away from the apocalyptic crash at the end. (Okay, that’s a “spoiler” but unavoidable.)

Some things are better left untouched. Re-making “3:10 to Yuma” produced a fairly decent modern Western, but who could remake Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch”? What cast can replace William Holden, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson,

Speaking of Sam Peckinpah, there is another remake that grinds my gears. In 1972, Peckinpah left his beloved Western genre for a gritty crime thriller titled “The Getaway.” In the original, Steve McQueen acted with, fell in love with, and married Ali McGraw. You can feel the romance onscreen. In the ‘90s remake, I immediately caught the sense that Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger could not wait for their divorce to become final.

Entertainment enterprises are good when they are edgy, original, and push the envelope of creativity. When some industry hack thinks a stillborn rehash of something that was a good idea at the time is a sure-fire money-maker, he is usually wrong.

Perhaps The Red Herring should consider this. Spending our way out of economic hard times worked only once, for FDR during the movie’s heyday in the 1930s. It took a global war and millions of deaths to provide the “stimulus” for that one unique moment in history.

Oops, I said no politics! Okay, I’m going to drive my very fast, gas-guzzling, irreplaceable car to the nearest multiplex and check out these “Transformers”. Can shape-shifting robots be any slicker than the lap dogs running my life these days? I need a few hours of what’s left of “freedom.”

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Importance of History; read the previous post first...

(Content unified in "The Hitler Analogy" above.)

"Gates-gate"? Gimme a break!

(Content unified in "The Hitler Analogy" above.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The beatification of St. Michael

I am not a moral relativist.

I do not believe that excessive achievement in one area negates overwhelming evil in any other aspect of life. Adolph Hitler truly loved children and dogs, but does that make him any more than the hideous tyrant he was?

I got in trouble on the home front for commenting on the breathless coverage of Michael Jackson’s travesty of a funeral. I remarked that given the credentials of the anchors and the moment-to-moment narration, the news people were regarding the state funeral accorded Mr. Jackson as a dress rehearsal for the impending assassination of Barack Obama.

Don’t misinterpret this. As much as I loathe The Manchurian Candidate, wishing death upon him is not an option. I am for throwing the rascals out of office, starting next year, before they destroy this country. As a white man of Southern heritage, I am terrified that some disaffected squirrel will turn us further into a banana republic by shooting a president who has failed the principles upon which America was founded. We give the bastards in Congress and the White House the heave-ho at the ballot box; we don’t kill them. Better they should suffer the shame of abject incompetence the rest of their lives.

So much for profundity. All seriousness aside…

I was going to flesh this out with some very bad jokes I heard about Michael Jackson. I had a whole reason for repeating them worked out. It was based on the tenet that we use dark humor to gloss over horror that otherwise boggles our minds. I was going to cite a joke about Lorena Bobbit and Jeffrey Dahmer, and a 9/11 joke, as examples of how we isolate ourselves from horror by saying ridiculous, offensive things that are so absurd they make us laugh in spite of ourselves. It’s the old “laughing to keep from crying” routine.

I won’t do that. Michael Jackson is dead, and I don’t feel too good myself.

Michael Jackson was a hell of an entertainer. He had a unique overabundance of talent. He was also eccentric, to say the least. I recently came across a definition of eccentricity as being “desperate aloneness.” Okay. I can relate to that.

I’m Lynrd Skynrd’s simple man. I don’t think of life in terms of bumper-sticker clichés, but I do accept simple moral tenets that are expressed succinctly in time-honored terms.

One of those things that used to be operative under the moniker “common sense” was “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

In Michael Jackson’s case, this notion goes to the issue of children. Perhaps he was indeed a naïf with a Peter-Pan-syndrome who was only comfortable with other emotionally undeveloped individuals. I am skeptical. I think there was something darker in play, no pun intended.

Even if he was just hanging out with kids for whatever comfort he could glean to compensate for his own abused childhood, what Jackson was doing was inappropriate. He was brought up in a Biblical heritage. There’s something I vaguely recall in the Bible about a time coming to put aside childish things.

I took some heat for making a moral judgment based on sketchy evidence. “He was acquitted!”

Yes, the one time he was brought to trial, the jury said he was innocent. I’m not a lawyer and never played one on TV, but real legal minds have analyzed that case, and found it arguably flawed from the prosecution’s standpoint. O.J. Simpson walked away from a murder charge that was much more concrete on the veracity of the evidence.

There were also the multi-million dollar payoffs to parents who have sold their silence at their children’s expense. I think something happened, and if it did, I cannot find Christian grace to forgive it. Contrary to modern thinking, there is such a thing as a moral absolute. Murder and child molestation are right there at the top of the list. I can be loosey-goosey about drug use, questionable sexual behavior, and venal crimes like driving too fast when the roads are empty, but there are lines that should not be crossed. I cannot accept the moral equivocation that Michael Jackson’s undeniable talent absolves him from whatever transgressions he may have committed with children.

I also cannot accept the proposition that MJ was an “African-American icon.” I cannot accept the notion that a cosmetically-engineered person who genetically engineers his children to be of a different race is an “icon” to his heritage.

Michael Jackson was not a head of state, nor was he a moral leader in the tradition of Martin Luther King. Yet he was made out to be both. Perhaps that is why I’m more sympathetic to the death of Billy Mays. Mays was a soap salesman; Jackson was a song-and-dance man. Billy Mays was buried quietly, with remembrance by loved ones and family. Whatever good will I might have summoned for Michael Jackson vanished in the smoke-and-mirrors of his “memorial”.

I was not entirely joking when I suggested to a truck-driving friend that we steal Jackson’s body, embalm it like Vladimir Lenin, and take it on tour in an 18-wheeler. We’d clean up with St. Michael at the state fairs, tractor-pulls, and empty coliseums where his forlorn fans gather to mourn a “comeback tour.”

One of the eulogists at his “memorial service” proclaimed “Michael will live forever.” Given my belief that there is an afterlife, and we answer to God, I’m not sure I’d want to spend eternity where Michael Jackson might be today.