Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 9, 2009

Rescue Dawn

Filed under: Film,Vietnam — louisproyect @ 7:06 pm

Out of curiosity, I watched Werner Herzog’s 2006 movie “Rescue Dawn” on Showtime the other night. This is a movie based on Navy pilot Dieter Dengler’s escape from a Laotian prison camp in 1966 that I could not help but lump in with similar efforts involving Sylvester Stallone or Chuck Norris. Perhaps I am a glutton for punishment, but I then watched Herzog’s 1997 documentary “Dieter Dengler Needs to Fly” on Neflix online (my first stab at this-not bad all in all), his first stab at glorifying a killer in uniform.

As many of you probably know, Werner Herzog has an attraction to the grotesque that is only exceeded by David Lynch’s. Additionally, both have questionable politics. Lynch was a Reaganite, but it is difficult to detect any kind of political statement in his movies. For his part, Herzog claims to be above politics but when it comes to the wars in Nicaragua and Vietnam, his films clearly had a rightwing tilt even if they are couched in his peculiar aesthetic.

“Little Dieter Needs to Fly” is a fairly worshipful view of the German child who decided to become a pilot after watching an American fighter pilot coming in to blast his home town in Germany in 1945. It is clear that Dengler has his priorities screwed up. Most children would be horrified by such a sight, but he was transfixed so much so that he came to the U.S. as a teenager to join the air force, as war-ravaged Germany had not yet created its own.

After joining the air force, he learns that his duties will not include learning to fly. Undaunted, he goes to college in order to help smooth the way toward his next bid at flying, this time in the U.S. Navy in 1965 at the start of the Vietnam War. Herzog claims that his movies about Dengler make no political statement because his subject had no intention of getting involved in fighting and assumed that the war would be over in months. Clearly, Herzog had little interest in bothering about ancillary issues such as the right of Vietnam to live in peace since they would only interfere with his mission to make the ultimate adventure story.

In a way, “Rescue Dawn” could never meet the expectations of the typical Chuck Norris fan (like Mike Hucklebee) since it is so imbued with Herzog’s mannerisms and oddball sensibility. Typically, he cast Christian Bale as Dieter Dengler. As a latter-day Anthony Perkins, Bale is the first actor casting actors will call if they are looking to fill the role of some lunatic or other.

Herzog must have decided that he would be right for the role since Bale had lost 63 pounds in order to play the deranged hero of “The Machinist”. In striving for verisimilitude, Herzog had his actors lose weight to play the captive American pilots. The Thai actors playing Air America (the CIA air company, not the liberal radio network) prisoners all had the good sense to maintain proper food intake. Just to show how gung-ho he was for the role, Bale eats live maggots direct from a bowl in one of the movie’s more unpleasant scenes.

Bale has garnered quite a reputation as a madman on the set as well, making him quite a match for Herzog. During the filming of the latest Terminator movie, he threw a tantrum when a lighting technician got on his wrong side.

Perhaps the most off-putting and least realistic aspect of “Rescue Dawn” is the treatment of the captors, who are rendered as over-the-top grotesques. The ringleader has hair down to his shoulders in a look that evokes the villains in Jackie Chan movies from the late ’90s rather than Communist guerrillas. One of his henchmen is a martial arts devotee who periodically flails at unseen enemies for no apparent reason. Another is a perpetually grinning dwarf who seems oblivious to everything, most of all the fact that a war is going on. Like David Lynch, Herzog seems to have a thing for dwarfs. In 1970 he made something called “Even Dwarfs Started Small” that depicted dwarfs in a mental institution run by other dwarfs. Although I have not seen it, it supposedly has a grand climax in which the rebel inmates uproot a palm tree, burn flowers, kill a pig, crucify a monkey and hurl live chickens against the guy in charge. One critic feels that Herzog was trying to make a statement about the 1968 student revolt. Whatever.

In order to increase the alienation effect, Herzog does not bother to use subtitles when the guards are shouting at the prisoners. This means that the audience will not be discomfited by the enemy telling their captors why they are being mistreated. Who would want to hear something like this? “Take that, you killer. Your fucking napalm killed my wife and our five kids.”

Despite his best (or worst, perhaps) intentions, Herzog did not endear himself to people connected to the prisoners, including the brother of prisoner Gene DeBruin. (Dengler died in 2001 so he would not be able to comment.) He set up a website called Rescue Dawn: the Truth that takes exception to his brother being portrayed as “an uncaring, deranged and derelict Charles Manson type entity, devoid of humanity.” What was he expecting? After all, this was not a Chuck Norris movie.

This was not the first time that Herzog cooked up an ostensibly rightwing propaganda piece that was undone by his unwillingness to settle for the pat. In 1984 he made “Ballad of the Little Soldier” on behalf of the Miskito counter-revolutionaries in Nicaragua. The movie can be seen on Youtube in five parts and all but the last part consists of Miskitos denouncing the FSLN as a bunch of Communist killers. Herzog made no attempt, of course, to get the other side of the story.

But the last part, an interview with 10 or 11 year old Miskito soldiers in training, undermines any attempt to build blind loyalty to their cause. Their instructor tells Herzog, “This is the best age for training. Their minds are clean, not corrupt yet, we can teach them.” Denis Reichle, Herzog’s co-director who apparently is not as gung-ho as Herzog, tells the instructor: “You mean you can brainwash them.” The instructor replies, “Yes, we can brainwash them and show them the reality of why they are fighting today.”

Coming full circle to the end of WWII, when young Dieter was discovering the need to fly, Reichle tells the camera that the young trainees remind him of the German children who put on Nazi uniforms and carried weapons in the final months of WWII.

112 Comments

  1. This is eye-opening! I had only seen two Herzog films before — Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre. The latter seemed like a straight reprise of Heart of Darkness, with clear allusions to the insanity of imperialism, and I believe Coppola said he was influenced by it in Apocalpyse Now. In Herzog’s documentary My Fiend Klaus Kinski he seems to be a thoughtful, sensitive, professorial type. Corrupted by fame?

    Comment by senecal — April 9, 2009 @ 8:38 pm

  2. You really think Herzog’s point of little deiter is to glorify war? He often likes stories of endurance even if the people are mad(i.e. Grizzly man)

    Comment by Jenny — April 9, 2009 @ 10:29 pm

  3. I think that he did intend to glorify Dieter, but his own warped sensibility subverted his intentions. Just as well, I suppose.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 9, 2009 @ 10:35 pm

  4. Wait, did you like Little deiter? Have you seen any of Herzog’s other works? Here’s another take if you’re interested: http://www.ruthlessreviews.com/reviews.cfm/id/897/page/little_dieter_needs_to_fly.html

    Comment by Jenny — April 10, 2009 @ 1:11 am

  5. It depends on how you mean “like”. I could not like any movie that is sympathetic to American pilots who bombed Vietnam even if it was directed by Orson Welles. Come to think of it, Welles would never have wasted his time.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 10, 2009 @ 1:14 am

  6. Not even Apocalypse Now?

    Comment by Jenny — April 10, 2009 @ 2:55 am

  7. Also,what’s your problem with Schindler’s list? With the exception of the speech at the end, it was basically a true story. Do you really think to tell a story of a vietnam soldier is to automatically glorify the war? You seem to see people in terms of black and white.

    Comment by Jenny — April 10, 2009 @ 2:59 am

  8. Also,what’s your problem with Schindler’s list? With the exception of the speech at the end, it was basically a true story. Do you really think to tell a story of a vietnam soldier is to automatically glorify the war? I think you seem to see people in terms of black and white, if you want to know the truth.

    Comment by Jenny — April 10, 2009 @ 2:59 am

  9. Jen asks: “Do you really think to tell a story of a Vietnam soldier is to automatically glorify the war? I think you seem to see people in terms of black and white, if you want to know the truth.”

    Unless the Vietnam soldier depicted is either (1) dubiously questioning, agitating or organizing against his perfidious mission or (2) lobbing grenades into the tents of officers — then you can safely assume Louis thinks the movie is ultimately rancid bullshit, regardless of who directed it or its other artistic merits, albeit some piles of bullshit are more rancid than others.

    I’d say he feels it is pretty “black & white” when it comes to US Imperialism’s Greatest Crime of the 20th Century.

    In Vietnam you were either for the victory of the NLF and the NVA or you were for the criminal turpitude of Uncle Sam — some confusion in the SWP during the war on this issue notwithstanding.

    You’re either with Capatain Yossarian in Catch 22 or you think like his officers.

    You either hope Colonel Kurtz survives the assassination attempt in Apocalypse Now or you don’t.

    Louis tells the story on this blog of how he stormed out of the film “Deer Hunter” back in the 70s shouting to all who could hear that it was the Americans that were forcing Russian Roulette upon their captives, not the other way around, as the film depicted.

    Lou’s right.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 10, 2009 @ 6:18 am

  10. I had never heard of Herzog’s movie “Fitzcarraldo” before but it’s quite ironic that Louis posted this article about Herzog because just the day before I watched this fascinating 1982 documentary on IFC by Les Blanc about the making of Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo” — a strange & terrible saga to be sure.

    As this review says: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083702/

    [Werner Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo” is a fine film which broke most artistic, logistical and financial conventions of good film-making. Herzog set out to take great liberties with the history of an historical character, a 19th century Irish Peruvian rubber tapper–and then, incongruously, abandoned the cinematic art of illusion to undertake some very dangerous filming in remote Amazonian jungles of Peru. One of the unfortunate consequences is that little of the danger is self-evident to uninformed audiences accustomed to illusion. That’s where Les Blanks filled in the blanks with his extraordinary documentary, “Burden of Dreams”–an essential companion to “Fitzcarraldo”. There are obvious comparisons to be drawn with Eleanor Coppola’s “Hearts of Darkness”, about “Apocalypse Now”–especially as a study of directorial obsession. Blanks’s film reveals “Fitzcarraldo” to have been a much riskier and crazier project than “Apocalypse”. This first class documentary should be in DVD.]

    Here’s a rather disturbing rambling monologue of Herzog’s from the movie in 2 parts:

    and….

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 10, 2009 @ 6:47 am

  11. You don’t need to be so condesending, I was just pointing out that Herzog may’ve wanted the audience to look at Dieter a different way rather than simply sympathizing with a killer. It seems that you ultimately view any filmaker or artist who tries to investigate the other side as an evil traitor like that one author whose family belonged to the U.S. socialist party.

    Comment by Jenny — April 10, 2009 @ 4:15 pm

  12. What’s really “condesending” is people pontificating on alleged nuances motivating US pilots during the Vietnam War who conclude the “truth” is that people who think like Louis “seem to see people in terms of black and white” — as if he’s somehow being myopic.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 10, 2009 @ 4:30 pm

  13. Marxists don’t subscribe to the post-modern view that “everyone has a story to tell from their viewpoint” which proves that “we’re all human beings” and “we can all (potentially) get along”. That guy bombed the people of Vietnam because he always wanted to fly? No, sorry, not interested, off to the guillotine with him.

    George Bush probably liked little dogs, and could have been a good husband or a good dad. Does it matter to the rest of us? Does this lighten the suffering of the people of Iraq? No.

    Hitler probably liked animals, and was probably good to children. Does anyone want to hear “his side of the story”? No. No one does.

    Marxists always view people and events, and “stories” (or should i say narratives?) politically. The “view” or narrative of the other side, is the politics of the other side. Marxists are not post-modernists, they can still see the politics behind the narratives, no matter how the media, liberal philosophers and hacks and politicians are trying to say otherwise. Shit doesn’t just happen.

    The narrative of someone who bombed Vietnam because as a kid always dreamed of flying, is trying to remove the important bit, the political aspect: the bombing of Vietnam. There are no two ways about it.

    Comment by Antonis — April 10, 2009 @ 8:17 pm

  14. “Does anyone want to hear “his side of the story”? No. No one does”

    I certainly agree with the main thrust of your argument but wasn’t one of the old Moor’s favourite aphorisms :”Nothing that is human is foreign to me”. I therefore respectfully submit he would want to “hear” as many sides to the story as possible in the search for understanding and knowledge to pursue scientific theories of human/social activities directed at overcoming class society.

    Comment by belgish — April 10, 2009 @ 10:00 pm

  15. Needless to say Marxists in general and Leninists in particular can articulate many a “problem with Schindler’s list” if need be but perhaps better to refrain from straying off topic.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 10, 2009 @ 10:05 pm

  16. I would submit by contrast that “the old Moor’s favourite aphorism: ”Nothing that is human is foreign to me” should be thought of NOT so much in the appreciation of shades of gray & human nuance but rather more in the Marxian “black & white” political sense 7 here’s why:

    Over the centuries “the old Moors” were essentially historically oppressed “Black” people routinely displaced by Murderous Crusades, Byzantine Incursions, Spanish Inquisition and Forcible Conversions to Catholicism. They endured so much misery at the hands of their “White” enemies to the North that ”Nothing that is human is foreign to me” simply meant that they weren’t all that surprised by the abject brutality of every new pogrom inflicted upon them by those erstwhile “humans” to the North — as they’d seen it all before & worse.

    Revealing the Moors understood their oppression and thereby the nuanced cruelty & barbarism of their oppressors does NOT at all mean that they appreciated or wanted to “‘hear’ as many sides to the story as possible” — no more than a Holcaust survivor wants to hear Hitler’s side of the story. On the contrary. They didn’t give a good god damn (pardon the pun) how the Pope rationalized their persecution. They just wanted the bastard killed.

    Thus for maximum philosophical fecundity “the old Moor’s favourite aphorism: ”Nothing that is human is foreign to me” should be seen foremost through the political lens of Marxists rather than the apolitical framework of the Post-Modernists, assuming of course that ones actually desires to change the world rather than just reinterpret it.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 10, 2009 @ 11:25 pm

  17. “Marxists don’t subscribe to the post-modern view that “everyone has a story to tell from their viewpoint” which proves that “we’re all human beings” and “we can all (potentially) get along”. That guy bombed the people of Vietnam because he always wanted to fly? No, sorry, not interested, off to the guillotine with him.”

    That’s telling, I always could a sense a us vs. them mentality in marxism. And Dieter is more about survival and preserverance in a harsh environment as opposed to flat out glorification. What’s wrong with character studies?

    Comment by Jenny — April 10, 2009 @ 11:29 pm

  18. Jenny, did you actually see “Rescue Dawn”? It is a whole magnitude of order more repulsive than “Little Dieter Needs to Fly”.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 10, 2009 @ 11:32 pm

  19. Karl you do realize the old Moor was Marx’s nickname and it was to him I was referring, so your interesting digression on the history of the Moors is beside the point?

    To me the phrase refers to a critical “hearing” of human experience in the sense of examing the evidence including what people say about themselves not in any post-modern all points of view are equal fashion but in pursuit of an objective scientific empirical enquiry.

    Comment by belgish — April 10, 2009 @ 11:56 pm

  20. Jen does raise a rather sophisticated point about the unwarranted persecution by the SWP leadership of the Cochranites when she writes of the need to “investigate the other side as an evil traitor like that one author whose family belonged to the U.S. socialist party.”

    But the persecution of one sect by another isn’t even in the same league as the persecution of, say, Jews by the Nazis — nevermind the persecution of Ho Chi Mihn by Uncle Sam.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 10, 2009 @ 11:58 pm

  21. No, I haven’t seen Rescue dawn for that exact reason.

    Comment by Jenny — April 11, 2009 @ 12:09 am

  22. I didn’t realize that “the old Moor” referred to Marx so please forgive my ignorance of that particular aspect of Marx’s biograpy.

    Ironic too because I sat & dwelled for 15 minutes on what exactly you meant by “the old Moor’s” before I did a quick refresher in Byzantine history.

    The 1st search result had a blurb about “aphorism’s of the Moors” so I figured that’s what you must be referring to, although I was still rather puzzled.

    It wasn’t meant as a personal attack. You stated from the outset you were in agreement with the gist of the comment you were responding to, so I’m with you there, although my point in relation to the Moors is still a valid one vis a vis the fecundity of the political versus the apoltical.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 11, 2009 @ 12:13 am

  23. Marxists don’t subscribe to the post-modern view that “everyone has a story to tell from their viewpoint” which proves that “we’re all human beings” and “we can all (potentially) get along”.

    As someone with a glancing familiarity with postmodernism, I can confidently say that this is an inaccurate characterization of it. It doesn’t talk about providing that “we’re all human beings”, nor does it emphasize “we can all (potentially) get along”. If anything, there is a dystopian tendency among postmodernists, not this sort of sappy progressivism, which is, of course, the sort of grand, reductionist narrative that postmodernism rejects.

    Hopefully, Marxists are more sophisticated that the way they are characterized here.

    But that wasn’t why I stopped by. I just wanted to say that Herzog is no Fassbinder, who, even while characterizing everyone in his films from a sympathetic perspective, never waived in his opinion as to how he thought society should be. As he told one of his costume designers about one particular project, “We are making a movie about the past from our point of view.

    Comment by Richard Estes — April 11, 2009 @ 12:33 am

  24. Jen – Just because you “always could a sense a us vs. them mentality in marxism” doesn’t sense mean that marxism is thereby invalidated.

    On the contrary.

    Marxism is essentially the history of the working class in their struggles with the ruling class — a story that for the most part wouldn’t be recorded if it weren’t for Marxists.

    That story is essentially one of politics. Lenin pointed out that despite multi-parapgraphed definitions of “politics” in the textbooks of bourgeois academia the word “politics” can really be defined in three simple words: “Who Gets What?”

    It’s precisely that enormous struggle over “who gets what” that determines history itself.

    Since Marxists are convinced that there’s only two great historic classes that will determine the fate of humankind, Marxism can easily be found guilty of an “us versus them” mentality — but that’s no insult. Indeed, it’s a badge of honor insofar as the ultimate aim of Philosopy is to “Seek the Truth.”

    “What’s wrong with character studies” you ask? Nothing whatsoever so long as they aren’t character studies like the “survival and preserverance in a harsh environment” of some Waffen SS soldier in a Red Army POW camp. Nobody here is interested in that story except insofar as it was a waste of food that could have been eaten by the Red Army.

    Since the individual is largely the product of society then Sociology makes about as much sense without Marxism as does Biology without Evolution.

    The proof that IndoChinese people are far more humane than American people is the fact that so many captured shot down pilots made it home, whereas if wounded MIG fighters were parachuting down into, say, Salt Lake City — rest assured they’d all land on pitch forks and any survivors would consider the dead lucky.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 11, 2009 @ 12:50 am

  25. “Marxists don’t subscribe to the post-modern view that “everyone has a story to tell from their viewpoint” which proves that “we’re all human beings” and “we can all (potentially) get along”.”

    Which is precisely why so much Marxist “thought” proves, under close examination, to be vapid, self-serving nonsense (the mirror image of the jingoistic rhetoric of a George Bush, for example).

    “It depends on how you mean “like”. I could not like any movie that is sympathetic to American pilots who bombed Vietnam even if it was directed by Orson Welles. Come to think of it, Welles would never have wasted his time.”

    As if it were set in stone that Welles was a greater talent than Herzog. It isn’t. There’s also the obvious fact that Welles makes Charles Foster Kane (and, as an actor, Harry Lime) rather attractive in many ways. In some ways, Kane is a glamorous figure. Certainly, all the other characters in KANE fade into a common grayness when set beside the title character. Does that mean Welles is actually promoting the very captains of industry he merely appears to be attacking? No, it means that in real art, as opposed to dogmatic socialist hackwork (of which this blog provides numerous examples), the truth is complex and multivalent. It doesn’t conform to the sort of pedantic, petty-martinet strictures that Karl Friedrich outlines as some sort of rule for art (some rule: virtually all great art violates this so-called rule).

    All in all, a typically glib, superficial, lazy effort from the unrepentant Stalinist Louis Proyect. For him, everything in the end comes down to politics. If the artist sees the world his way, they’re to be applauded (thus, a film like WENDY AND LUCY garners Proyect’s rapturous applause, as if it were latter-day DeSica or something). If the artist doesn’t, they are to be condemned (hence the snide dismissal of Cormac McCarthy, a flawed but important novelist).

    Too bad Proyect has apparently never heard Oscar Wilde’s dictum, “A truth in art is that whose contradictory is also true.” If he did, he might actually be capable of writing an intelligent review of something someday.

    “Bale has garnered quite a reputation as a madman on the set as well, making him quite a match for Herzog.”

    Really? With who? If you’d bother reading the follow-up to this story, you’d see that he has no such rep, that all his colleagues said this outburst was completely out of character. But of course, character assassination is no object for you, is it? And the fact that he (like Tony Perkins) is a superb actor also apparently counts for nothing. (But then, you probably aren’t even aware that Bale is a great actor: that would require you to pay attention to the sort of nuances humourless idealogues like to steamroll right over.)

    Thank God the Marxist revolution hasn’t happened yet. I couldn’t bear to live in a world where someone as willfully, relentlessly mendacious as you occupied any sort of leadership position. At least corporate capitalism is good for one thing, whatever its other failings: keeping the likes of Louis Proyect far, far from the corridors of power.

    Comment by Chris — April 11, 2009 @ 1:05 am

  26. Chris: There’s also the obvious fact that Welles makes Charles Foster Kane (and, as an actor, Harry Lime) rather attractive in many ways.

    Reply: But those were villains, not heroes. Dieter Dengler was portrayed in both films as a *hero*.

    Chris: All in all, a typically glib, superficial, lazy effort from the unrepentant Stalinist Louis Proyect.

    Reply: Stalinist? I always thought I was strongly influenced by Leon Trotsky but whatever…

    Chris: But of course, character assassination is no object for you, is it?

    Reply: You wouldn’t be Christian Bale, by any chance, would you? I think you are a fine actor even though your range is rather limited. You might want to try some anti-psychotic medication.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 11, 2009 @ 1:16 am

  27. Richard Estes argues above that “If anything, there is a dystopian tendency among postmodernists, not this sort of sappy progressivism, which is, of course, the sort of grand, reductionist narrative that postmodernism rejects. Hopefully, Marxists are more sophisticated that the way they are characterized here.”

    True enough, “sappy progressivism” essentially amounts to Liberalism’s Grand Narrative & postmodernism abandons all “grand narratives” just as it abandons the class struggle. How convenient this philosophy is to the intellectually frustrated in the epoch of the greatest defeats the proletariat has ever endured! Its “dystopian tendency” is but a cop out that inexorably wanders into the “League of Abandoned Hopes.”

    If in this epoch of imperialist decay the stampeding petty bourgeoisie should spearhead another era of fascism — count on the right wing of Post-Modernism to lead the charge.

    But if Marxists are accused of being unsophisticated reductionists because they still view the struggle over “who gets what?” as the most unifying theory that makes sense of the world in general, and where we humans have been and where we’re going in particular — then I guess it is “us versus them.”

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 11, 2009 @ 1:28 am

  28. This part of Proyect’s dim-witted rant made me gape in disbelief:

    “But the last part, an interview with 10 or 11 year old Miskito soldiers in training, undermines any attempt to build blind loyalty to their cause. Their instructor tells Herzog, “This is the best age for training. Their minds are clean, not corrupt yet, we can teach them.” Denis Reichle, Herzog’s co-director who apparently is not as gung-ho as Herzog, tells the instructor: “You mean you can brainwash them.” The instructor replies, “Yes, we can brainwash them and show them the reality of why they are fighting today.” ”

    Are you really saying what I think you’re saying? Here’s a little fact for you to process, okay? Denis Reichle, the co-director, is nobody. For all intents and purposes, this was a Herzog film. Which means, if Herzog was as “gung-ho” as you say, he could have eliminated whatever he wanted to eliminate. If he left the “brainwashing” line in there, it’s because he wanted it there. Or do you seriously think Herzog doesn’t do any editing or leave anything on the cutting room floor? Reichle asked the question, but Herzog included the footage of his own volition. Herzog chose to include the problematic “brainwashing” line, with all its unsettling ramifications.

    Thus, your attempt to portray Herzog as a hidebound reactionary is (yet again) a failure.

    I suppose you interpret AGUIRE WRATH OF GOD as a whole-hearted endorsement of the methods and motives of the Spanish conquistadors too? Herzog’s telling us what a delightful guy Aguirre is?

    Comment by Chris — April 11, 2009 @ 1:30 am

  29. I am quite sure that Herzog was appalled by 11 year olds being pressured to fight. But that does not counter-balance the political impact that he must have understood the film would have. It is a propaganda piece primarily against a government that was trying to help the poor. A good director would have made an effort to get the other side of the story, but clearly Herzog was mainly interested in nailing the FSLN. He was also wringing his hands over the fate of 11 year olds. If he was seriously interested in helping 11 year olds to avoid combat, he would have made a different kind of film–one alas that he lacked the political insight to make.

    “Aguire, Wrath of God” and “Stroszek” were 2 of my favorite movies from the 1980s, but then again so was “Annie Hall”.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 11, 2009 @ 1:36 am

  30. “Reply: But those were villains, not heroes. Dieter Dengler was portrayed in both films as a *hero*.”

    But Captain Ahab is also a hero, and Melville’s feelings about him are so complicated that one can read diametrically opposed interpretations of the novel. Somerset Maugham thought Ahab was “evil” and the White Whale “good,” and said so, but he was responding specifically to various critiques which took as a given that the Whale was an incarnation of the Evil in the universe. Melville doesn’t control the reader’s responses enough for anyone to feel, for sure, if Ahab is a hero, a villain, a hero-villain, or what have you.

    Herzog doesn’t treat Aguirre or any other Kinski character as a straight, unambiguous hero OR villain, and it’s a mistake to think his previous ambiguity/ambivalence has gone out the window now. Why do you think he includes that bit at the end about Dieter crashing his plane however many times after? You seem unable to detect irony (another bit: the Americans want him to say he believes in God and country, but he refuses, and says he only believes in having a steak). The apparently jingoistic ending is like the ending of HAMLET, where Fortinbras (getting the last word) declares Hamlet will have full military honors, as is fit – this is Shakespeare’s irony, not his endorsement of military jingoism.

    And you are also wrong that Herzog dehumanizes the Vietnamese (as you were wrong about Cormac McCarthy’s attitudes in BLOOD MERIDIAN too). The guards are not monsters, their personalities are clearly differentiated (unlike THE DEER HUNTER), and their harshness is the result of dire straits.

    “You wouldn’t be Christian Bale, by any chance, would you? I think you are a fine actor even though your range is rather limited.”

    A gay rock journalist (VELVET GOLDMINE), an ordinary, mild-mannered 19th century American lad (LITTLE WOMEN), a psychotic Wall-Street yuppie (AMERICAN PSYCHO), and Dieter Dengler are so much alike in personality and temperament.

    “Limited range” means the actor tends to portray the same sort of person repeatedly. Or it means, even when confronted with a different sort of script, they play some variation of themselves each time out, regardless of genre (e.g. Julia Roberts plays “Julia Roberts” whether the movie is PRETTY WOMAN, ERIN BROCKOVICH, or SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY). That isn’t Bale, who has a very wide range.

    Comment by Chris — April 11, 2009 @ 1:55 am

  31. Hey Christian Bale: we appreciate your enormously inflated ego for googling your way onto this site.

    We thank you for confirming in advance which side of the barricades you’ll be on in the Hollywood labor struggles that are sure to visit LA in the near future.

    We’ll not expect to see you out there with the cops in riot gear but hunkered down maybe with a crack pipe & a vial of psyche meds in a posh trailer on the set of either “Black Hawk Down II” or “Coming Home in a Chinese Made Pentagon Procured Body Bag.”

    Rather than the allegedly mendacious likes of Louis Proyect near the “corridors of power” the world’s a much better place run by 3rd rate chickenhawk evangelical pilots like Dubya running the show — even if their most dangerous mission was flying a low altitude sortie over Houston during the Vietnam War.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 11, 2009 @ 1:57 am

  32. Put down the crackpipe, Karl, I’m not Christian Bale.

    Of course, it doesn’t surprise me, with your infantile Manichean/Marxist dualistic perspective, your simplistic kitsch-melodrama good/evil binarism, you think everything is either pro-Vietnam/pro-America, pro-working class/pro ruling class, pro-Communism/pro-imperialism. Everything broken down into simplistic, childish categories.

    Marxist Manicheanism is just as much responsible for the current world economic mess as corporate “free market” capitalism. Both ideologies, in their crude schematism, were equally to blame for the Cold War, and they are equally to blame for the miserable state of the world today. Great filmmakers like Herzog can potentially do more for the “working class” (whatever that is) or any other class than all the pom-pom waving idealogues who ever lived.

    Comment by Chris — April 11, 2009 @ 2:32 am

  33. Forgive me Sir Christopher. I realize coming to grips with the class struggle as the motor of history is frustrating for the average post-modern intellectual whose unsatisfied with the status quo. It leads to a kind of intellectual anarcho-terrorism rooted, like all individual terror has historically been, in the inability to forsee or imagine how the masses can get organized.

    I just fix cars for a living, and when we wrenches see how corporate engineers pawn off rolling plans of obsolesence to the public while our wages stagnate — we too see 1st hand the “miserable state of the world today” — albeit from underneath the vehicle not inside of it with the A/C blasting amidst Bose surround sound.

    We grease monkeys of the world may not currently be united but rest assured we rely on “crude schematism” & busted knuckles to get your pile of shit down the road another mile.

    We still rely on that “crude schematism” to determine whose fucking us over — and it’s not Fidel Castro.

    I’m pleased to learn workers like us owe our increasingly desperate plight not to the machinations of the imperial bourgeoisie but to Lenin & the political naivety of his “crude schematism.” Why should we mechanics dream of forming a union when it will ultimately be taken over by some asswipe like a Frank Fitzsimmons?

    Leave it to an over-educated post-modernist to blame the victims of imperialism — as if the Cold War weren’t a monstrously lop-sided agression — which started in 1917 and not 1948 contrary to popular mythology.

    Those goddamn workers & peasants in Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam & Nicaragua are “just as much responsible for the current world economic mess as corporate ‘free market’ capitalism” according to the apolitical League of Abandoned Hopes.

    We hoped you would teach us something new, a third way out of this mess perhaps, but instead all we get is a rehashed sermon by a prickly pear that begins right after Orwell’s Animal Farm ended — the pigs are people and the people are pigs and nobody can tell the difference anymore?

    Talk about worn out philosophy?

    Thanks for nothing.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 11, 2009 @ 4:30 am

  34. Erm, the peasants in China also starved to death or purged in the case of Stalin and Mao’s regimes. Just saying.

    Comment by Jenny — April 11, 2009 @ 6:29 am

  35. “Marxist Manicheanism is just as much responsible for the current world economic mess as corporate “free market” capitalism”

    That is the problem with trolling: the troll is forced to adopt increasingly preposterous positions in its thirst for responses, which eventually make the trolling too obvious to work…

    Comment by Antonis — April 11, 2009 @ 8:29 am

  36. Erm, Jen, thanks to Monsanto Corporation & Ghandi — Indian Peasants today get a choice on how they die — starvation or suicide.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1082559/The-GM-genocide-Thousands-Indian-farmers-committing-suicide-using-genetically-modified-crops.html

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 11, 2009 @ 3:38 pm

  37. Stop being so fucking condescending. That news story still doesn’t absolve stalin and Mao from misdeeds. Go ahead though, tell me why Mao and Stalin chose the tatics that they did.

    Comment by Jenny — April 11, 2009 @ 4:50 pm

  38. I think that people should stick to the topic here. We are discussing movies and politics, particularly as it relates to Werner Herzog, not capitalism versus socialism.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 11, 2009 @ 4:52 pm

  39. “I realize coming to grips with the class struggle as the motor of history is frustrating for the average post-modern intellectual whose unsatisfied with the status quo.”

    Look, Karl, I happen to disagree that the class struggle is THE motor of history. It’s A factor, not THE factor of factors. What you claim is not a fact, just a personal opinion. It’s one of the tenets of the communist religion, like Original Sin is for most forms of the Christian religion throughout history. But for me it’s not a fact.

    But bringing this back to Herzog, I think it is absurd to base a review of any work of art primarily on the political stances of the artist – the APPARENT stances, mind you, for oftentimes there is more irony present than is acknowledged. The movie DOES acknowledge that there’s something “off” about Dieter Dengler. But one of the themes is if his borderline insane view of the world actually works to his ADVANTAGE in dire straits – unlike his more “sensible” and in some ways more likeable fellow POWs. This is not simply Herzog’s version of TOP GUN, for if he’d wanted to make TOP GUN, he’d have hired Tom Cruise or the Tom Cruise type of corn-fed apple-pie actor, not an actor best known for playing the “Dark Knight” and the “American Psycho.” Dieter is not all “good” just as Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo are not all “bad,” horrible as their behavior could be (or as naive yet TOUCHINGLY, HUMANLY naive bumbler Timothy Treadwell in GRIZZLY MAN inspired mixed feelings in the audience).

    And for the record, I feel just as exasperated when Mr. Roger Kimball, for example, in the NEW CRITERION snidely dismisses the well-deserved Nobel Prizes awarded to Harold Pinter and Jose Saramago, because they happen to have the “wrong” political views (i.e. socialist/Communist sympathies). It couldn’t possibly be because they were/are major writers, it’s only because they’re on the left they won. Kimball of course went into raptures of approbation when V.S. Naipaul got it. Point being: aesthetics for him are always a mask for ideology, novels, paintings, films are ALWAYS judged on political, not aesthetic terms, only the nature of the politics the NEW CRITERION approves of is different than Proyect’s.

    Comment by Chris — April 11, 2009 @ 8:53 pm

  40. “That is the problem with trolling: the troll is forced to adopt increasingly preposterous positions in its thirst for responses, which eventually make the trolling too obvious to work…”

    Not at all, provided you’re willing to peel back more than a single layer of the onion in examining the causes of social misery. The most perceptive journalists have seen that there is a sense of holy mission, not mere cold-blooded pragmatism alone, to most American adventures imperialism (i.e. Communism as rival religion acted as an irresistible magnet for “free market” zealots: they were fighting Evil Incarnate: that’s why they often felt no guilt, they were the “good guys,” the Commies the “bad guys” – the Soviets and Chinese, of course, merely took the same simplistic idea and reversed the “sides” – that’s what I call Manichean Dualism):

    http://www.radicalmiddle.com/x_kinzer.htm

    Comment by Chris — April 11, 2009 @ 9:14 pm

  41. The odiousness of Herzog’s outlook can be glimpsed in his brusque dismissal of Jean-Luc Godard: “Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good Kung Fu film.”

    Comment by sk — April 12, 2009 @ 5:23 am

  42. Chris said:
    “But bringing this back to Herzog, I think it is absurd to base a review of any work of art primarily on the political stances of the artist….”

    Then why even bother stopping by Proyect’s blog Chris? If you don’t want a Pizza, then don’t go to a Pizza joint and complain about the menu.

    Jenny said:
    “That’s telling, I always could a sense a us vs. them mentality in marxism.”

    Hey Jennny, I think you might be on to something here, but now you might want to go and learn something more about Marxism before you go into auto-pilot and start blabbering on about Stalin and Mao.

    Comment by Sheldon — April 12, 2009 @ 7:30 am

  43. I haven’t seen the movie so I don’t know if louis is wrong or not, but this review has some of the aspects that really tend to annoy me about his reviews, namely his prudishness.

    In this and in other reviews louis tends to say things like “that’s disgsuting” or “that’s depressing” and I often wonder what happened to louis to make him so squeamish. Louis, as someone who greatly admires your writing, I have to be honest your movie reviews often sound like they come from an 80 year old church lady. Shouldn’t a movie about POW’s be a little disgusting and hard. Would you prefer it if Herzog sugar coated it. In this review and the one for Hunger your negative review seemed to have less to do with political differences with the movie and more your own repressed sensitivities to onscreen violence.

    I also found the reference to Christian Bales rant tape a little childish. I happen to think Bale is one of the best actors working today and I don’t get why you had to take a cheap shot at him like that because you don’t like the movie. I think you admitted in the Michael Clayton review that you don’t know much about acting and called George Clooney one of the finest actors alive. Now I like Clooney and in some ways he’s actually underrated, but if anybody can be described as having a limited range it’s him. He does nothing but play himself, where Christian Bale can play different accents and different personalities with a great ease.

    Sure, maybe he is a little crazy, but you know what great actors often are a little nuts. Marlon Brando was a complete basket case, but I would never say he wasn’t great.

    I will say that Louis makes one point I absolutely agree and that is that movies that pretend to have know ideology are often the most ideological of all. This point is often made ironically by someone louis loathes, Slavoj Zizek. I agree that he can get really pretentious at times, but underneath that pretension there is some worthwhile wisdom.

    I too am tired of this “I am just soldier” mantra that you always see in modern war movies. I didn’t mind at first with Saving Private Ryan, but when it got movies like Black Hawk Down and the just plain god awful We Were Soldiers I saw this mantra as the ideological cover that it was.

    Unlike movies of the past like The Green Berets, it’s less about justifying imperialism and more about a sick fetishism of military procedure and discipline. Look at a movie like Jarhead, the mission itself is almost irrelevant, all that matters are the tribalistic rituals that make up the institution.

    Anyway, I don’t know if Rescue Dawn is one of those movies or not, but it did seem that way from the trailers I saw. I happen to think that louis’s taste in movies is often superb, although lately I feel his reviewing skills have been declining. I disagreed with his reviews of The Dark Knight, Syriana, Zodiac, There Will Be Blood and yes Knocked up. I know I’m such an uncultured cretin, I actually like Judd Apatow. I understand why louis hates his films and I feel that is more a generational divide on what’s considered funny than anything else.

    In the same way I can’t understand how louis can like the mind-numbingly shallow Sex and the City. Louis you do realize that the guy behind that show was the one who created Melrose Place don’t you?

    I will close by saying that despite these criticisms I wouldn’t for a single second want louis to review movies any other way. For all his occasional faults louis has never, unlike most film critics, become a pathetic sycophant.

    I remeber seeing Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator and thinking that scene where Howard Hughes has dinner with Katherine Hepburns family was bullshit and louis was the only critic I’ve seen who felt similar. I wouldn’t want him to change that attitude for a second.

    Comment by Dave — April 12, 2009 @ 8:20 am

  44. I would also like to say, that while I disagree with some of louis’s movie reviews, I agree with Sheldon that it’s absurd to say that he shouldn’t review a movie based on politics. I mean his cite is called “Unrepetant Marxist”, how else is he supposed to review movies.

    Anyway all this is based on the false assumption that there is such a thing as a movie without ideology. All movies are ideological, whether they be romatic comedies or dramas, there all expressing a way of thinking that they consider correct. Whether the filmmakers are conscously aware of them or not doesn’t matter, there still there.

    All this I think comes from one of the great delusions of our time and that is the delusion of “neutrality”. No such thing exists and frankly I don’t why we would want such an awful thing to exist. It seems very sad that in todays world having a clear set of ideological principles is considered in poor taste.

    Despite being a reactionary, I actually partly agree with Barry Goldwaters phrase “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice”. To my way of thinking being called an extremist should be seen as a compliment and being called a moderate should be a source of shame. Moderate is code to me for you don’t really believe in anything at all.

    Chris I feel you’ve made some intelligent points in this forum, but you linked to a website called the Radicle Middle. In my opinion it’s the radical middle that’s responsible for most of what’s wrong with the world. It’s the Radicle middle, comprised of people like Michael rubin and Lawrence Summers that are responsible for the current financial crisis.

    Comment by Dave — April 12, 2009 @ 9:03 am

  45. The odiousness of Herzog’s outlook can be glimpsed in his brusque dismissal of Jean-Luc Godard: “Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good Kung Fu film.”

    While I have problems with Herzogs rather harsh characterization of Godard, I don’t see anything odious about this comment. I don’t think this comment is meant to mean anything other than Godard can sometimes be a little pretentious. Although so can Herzog so this comment strikes me as a little hypocritical sense as far as most americans are concerned, both Godard and Herzog come from the same arthouse crowd.

    I think the point he was making is that sometimes the most populist form of filmmaking can have more resonance than than more explicitly artful film.

    I often feel that marxists miss out on the subserviness that some popular narratives can have. Take Star Wars for example. On the face of it this is a simplistic good vs. evil story. However, if you look at it more closely, I feel you could interpret it as a story about a revolt against capitalism. Luke skywalker isn’t rebelling against some external force threating society, he’s fighting against the society itself which is cold and corrupt as signified by Darth Vader.

    Say what you will about the overall quality of Star Wars prequels, but I’ve always had the theory that George Lucas made them partly because he was angry at the way conservatives appropriated themes from the movies in the 80’s. I think he said on more than one occasion that he didn’t like the way Ronald Reagan used the terms “Evil Empire” and “May the force be”.

    Comment by Dave — April 12, 2009 @ 9:30 am

  46. “This point is often made ironically by someone louis loathes, Slavoj Zizek”

    I agree, and maybe Louis will want to give Zizek a second chance. No marxist has got *everything* right, indeed Engels i think has dismissed homosexuality as a bourgeois deviation and has privately joked with Marx on the issue of employers’ sexual advances towards their child labourers. Zizek is VERY strong on the subject of liberal ideology and he’s worth taking the time and trouble. Plus he shares Louis’ love of cinema.

    “Anyway all this is based on the false assumption that there is such a thing as a movie without ideology.”

    On the subject of war movies, there is a documentary available on youtube and google video, where it shows how the most spectacular films are made with US army resources (vehicles, uniforms, guns, advisers, explosives specialists etc) and only if the director agrees to have some army guy making subtle interventions on the movie’s dialogue and script. That’s how you end up with the usual soldiers who commit war crimes, but hey, it’s only a “few bad apples”, but the rest of the soldiers are doing their duty etc, and how such films are subtly geared to show camaraderie and horseplay between soldiers and individual sacrifice, so as to work as a subtle recruiting film for the Marines. Otherwise, the Marine Corps will tell the director “Good luck finding all this stuff we offer you for free/a pittance and getting the money and licenses for them yourself”.

    You can see many instances of this subtle yet deeply ideological army interference on HBO’s “Generation Kill”, that yes there is homophobia in the army, but hey, they all get in battle together like good comrades and have a good laugh at the end of the day about it, and support each other, and blah blah isn’t the Marines great? Or yes there’s this hillbilly who shoots civilians, but it’s only a stupid hillbilly, the bad apple, but hey, he’s a good marksman and you can rely on him to cover you, and hey, that village is bombed to dust, but it’s not the grunts it’s some fucko officer who got bad intel from somewhere, ’cause shit happens during the messy war but at the end of the day the grunts go on another mission that is not a fuck-up and that takes most of the time. JOIN THE MARINES, “warrior culture”, camaraderie, adventure, big guns.

    Comment by Antonis — April 12, 2009 @ 10:21 am

  47. I would also like to say to Chris in regards to the cite you linked too, it has problems because it makes the usual tired jab at Noam Chomsky.

    If you ask me in a decent world Chomsky would be considered a moderate. As far as I know Chomsky is expressly anti-marxist in most of his beliefs. The writer of this piece seems to know very little about Chomsky because he makes the absurd claim that Chomsky advocates a revolution to solve societys problems. If he acutally read Chomsky he would realize that he makes the same point that Stephen Kinzer makes, that people need to be better informed. The only difference is that Chomsky aware of the ideological framework that comtributes to peoples ignorance. Chomsky’s main criticism of Kinzer was regarding his coverage in the 80’s of the conflict in Nicauraga.

    Speaking of which Louis, if you ever get a chance you should take a look at the wikipedia article for the Contras. It’s a travesty and bascially reads like the CIAs version of events. I edit wikipedia from time to time and have made what improvements I can to the article, but I’m handicapped in that I don’t know that much about the conflict.

    You were there in the 80’s, surely you could improve the article with your first hand knowledge. Be careful though, there a group of editors at wikipedia determined to make the article as pro-contras as they can.

    Comment by Dave — April 12, 2009 @ 10:41 am

  48. I agree somewhat with antonis on Generation Kill, although I think it avoided sinking to the level of celebration of military tribalism that Jarhead and Black Hawk Down sank too. I think the reason I feel that way is because I’m a huge fan of The Wire. It has to be the most accurate representation of class clonflict ever to air on american television.

    If I had to make one recommendation to Louis, it would be to put away the Sex and the City DVD’s and go get every season of The Wire.

    Comment by Dave — April 12, 2009 @ 12:02 pm

  49. “Sophisticated Art Critics of the World Unite!”

    The “Radical Middle” is an oxymoron led by politically lazy but articulate bullshit artists that hang their hats on the reactionary lie that “both sides” of the Cold War are equally repsonsible for the enormous suffering & wealth polarization in the world today.

    It’s ironic, isn’t it, that when it comes to assessing blame for the 70+ years of the Cold War the pizza-hater storms into the pizza parlor but leaves his toolbag of “Nuanced Critiques” at the door and resorts instead to the “crude schematism” of the intellectually frustrated Radical Middler who shouts: “Both Sides Are Equally to Blame!”

    In many cases the insulation of the Radical Middle provided by their university milieu so alienates them from the masses of ordinary working people that they’re incapable of remembering that historically the only human activity that has ever fundamentally ameliorated human suffering structurally is when these masses politically organize themselves.

    To the extent they sense this truism they also sense the enormous obstacles in the way of such organizing. The thought of so much “real work” and self-sacrifice (nevermind the “crude schematism” that angry unwashed crowds often whip up) makes them cringe in revulsion. So they head straight for the exits of political mass movements winding up in the Radical Middle wherein wheels are reinvented under the banner of the Third Way and its ruthless criticism of everything existing — except of course their favorite artists who more often that not tilt to the right.

    From there some even land careers utilizing their sophisticated anthropological skills for the State Department interested in exploiting, for the purposes of divide & conquer, the subtle differences of, say, Shiites in Iran, or teaching classes on the nuances in the Latin American Left for the School of the Americas.

    While it’s certainly interesting that a particular episode of imperialist slaughter was influenced by an evangelical here, or an anti-communist there, or, as Petras argues, neocon Zionists with the blessings of evangelicals in Mid East policy today — none of that fundamentally alters how the victims of US Hegemony should view it since none of those “nuances” fundamentally alters the bottom line of What Uncle Sam Really Wants.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 12, 2009 @ 3:55 pm

  50. Dave: Your comment above shows you’re a pretty savvy film critic in your own right. It’s true on the one hand Clooney is far from “the greatest” anything, yet discernably underrated as an actor — but how was Clooney simply “playing himself” as Captain Billy Tyne in “The Perfect Storm”?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 12, 2009 @ 5:04 pm

  51. I like many of the distinctions Dave draws and the points he makes. But I wish he wouldn’t repeat the meaningless “All films are ideological.” Of course every movie has a point of view that reflects values. But there’s a world of difference between a movie fit into a system of principles and one that issues more directly from a director’s sensibility. It’s the difference between, say, Ken Loach’s “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” and, well, say, Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Blvd.” Sure, Wilder was conditioned by his society, job, and what have you. But he doesn’t set out intent on honoring certain principles. The parallel cliché is that “All films show class conflict.” Of course they do. If I light a cigar or spit on the floor, I indicate class. Make an actor put on a necktie and he enters the class war. But there’s a difference between a director who sets out to demonstrate class warfare and one who reveals it along the way. The danger of demonstrations of principle in art is that they tend to be rigid and to exclude intuitions that can often be the best part of a work.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — April 12, 2009 @ 5:10 pm

  52. Contary to their critics, Manichean pizza lovers do understand “What Uncle Sam Really Wants” is at some levels very tricky to define. We’re not conspiracy theorists. We don’t imagine the ruling class as a homogenous kleptocracy without it’s own myriad contradictions, both rational & irrational, that nevertheless shape the overall odious trajectory of their policies.

    When the commercial press reports on some new Pentagon Initiative, we ARE guilty of the “crude schematism” that convinces us without much further reading that whatever the Pentagon is initiating it’s almost certainly bad for people who must sell their labor to survive.

    Radical Middle authors convince themselves that they’ve contributed to the humanities by discovering that, contrary to the crude dualists who rail against corporate greed & their jackboots of militarism, imperialism isn’t necessarily just greedy because they’re military adventures (particularly their failed ones) are often at odds with more efficient & rational (read “peaceful”) ways to plunder resources and exploit labor — not to mention undermine their own security.

    But the short term shareholder interests of say the arms makers in the military industrial complex which profits from selling new bombs that need to get dropped on distant cities are often at odds with with say the shareholders of the financial sector who are interested in social “stability” abroad to insure their investments.

    Regardless of the “nuances” of imperialist policies and their general distaste for its machinations both violent & otherwise, the Third Way ultimately rejects the notion the “system” is inherently predatory.

    That’s their ultimate point of departure from the Left and what really defines them as the Middle — their sometimes useful criticisms of “crude schematism” notwithstanding.

    True enough it seems completely irrational that the proverbial Scorpion so quickly undermines his own security when stinging the toad who ferrys him across the river but ultimately he can’t help it. It’s his nature.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 12, 2009 @ 6:27 pm

  53. Okay, I am no longer accepting comments on this article unless they relate directly to the topic at hand.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 12, 2009 @ 6:35 pm

  54. I like Peter Byrne’s comment and agree, film like all art has to find its political self on its own natural steam. That being said, however, I like the biting quality of Louis’s commentary because he believes he sees the features of the class dictatorship in the way different artists have learned to approach their disciplines. If Louis were saying he believes Herzog’s camera should be taken away from him and his rights to make any film destroyed simply because he occasionally creates work that Louis finds offensive, then I believe people would be spot on in calling him a “stalinist” or “prudish”.

    Comment by MIchael Hureaux — April 12, 2009 @ 6:52 pm

  55. I would like to say that I’m not making the “oh Louis is a typical humorless marxist” argument. He clearily has a great sense of humor in his reviews. I just feel that on certain occasions he can be a little puritanical when it comes to onscreen violence. It seems like he’s someone who prefers the days of the Hays Code when anything even remotely graphic was censored. I mean someone trying to survive in the jungle isn’t supposed to be pretty.

    I understand the idea louis is going for, there are some movies that tend to wallow in the nihilistic glee of indistrictimate violence that it can leave a sour taste in your mouth. It’s just in this review and the one he did for “Hunger” he seems to have a real pathogical distaste for movies that deal honestly with how frail human body’s are.

    I do agree with his overall point that it would be nice for once to see a vietnam movie from the vietnamese viewpoint for once. I mean without exception the Vietnamese are protrayed as anonymous beasts who come out of the jungle to kill americans. Even the best American film about Vietnam, Oliver Stones “Platoon” uses this stereotype.

    Comment by Dave — April 12, 2009 @ 8:34 pm

  56. As for the matter of what constitutes a versatile actor. In regards to Christian Bale it seems Louis is making the argument a lot of people have made about Bale lately, namely that he’s only good at playing overly serious brooding psychos. Well you could make the same argument about Vincent Dinofrio who Louis once regarded as an exceptionally gifted actor. Dinofrio, I think many would argue has the same reputation as Bale for playing extremely distrubed individuals.

    I actually find a lot of humor in Bales roles, especially in American Psycho where he eschews method acting realism and has the courage to embrace the pure campiness of the character of Patrick Bateman. I think a lot of people are under the false assumption that Bale is a method actor. He’s in fact denied this and has said his only process for acting is observing people.

    As for George Clooney, I agree in recent years in films like Solaris, Syriana and Michael Clayton he’s shown he can play more than just suave. However, he’s never really completely transformed himself into another person that way actors like Johnny Depp or Gary Oldman have. The closes he ever came to that in my opinion was the part he played in the Coen Bros “O Brother Where art Thou?”.

    Comment by Dave — April 12, 2009 @ 9:08 pm

  57. “Beautiful Country” is a worthwhile movie about Vietnam. It was made in 2004 by the Norwegian Hans Petter Moland and got some distribution, probably because Tim Roth and Nick Nolte were in the cast. It shows, from the Vietnamese point of view, the tragedy of having a U.S. soldier for a father.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — April 12, 2009 @ 9:18 pm

  58. I’d watch Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” 100 times in a row before I’d want to watch “Platoon” again.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 12, 2009 @ 10:48 pm

  59. I agree Full Metal Jacket, as with just about everything by Kubrick, is a brilliant film. However, you could make the same argument about that film that louis made about Rescue Dawn.

    Both fetishize military Culture an procedure and both depict the vietnamese as unkowneable aliens. Granted Full metal Jacket, unlike other vietnam films, shows the process of how war is managed to the media and how soldiers are brainwashed, but it still has a lot of underhanded rascism in it.

    I just feel that because Oliver Stone lived it, that Platoon is the better film. Although, Full Metal Jacket is more intellectually stimulating and I agree if I had to make a choice, I’d probably choose Kubrick over Stone.

    Comment by Dave — April 13, 2009 @ 2:35 am

  60. I seriously doubt Louis would critique Herzog’s lone imperialist war movie in the same fashion as Kubrick’s. Talk about nuancing imperialist foreign policy! Nobody better than Kubrick depicted the sadistically racist Protestant work ethic behind the historic Liberal foreign policy of Uncle Sam. I’d trade a dozen Herzog’s for the guy who directed anti-war films like “Paths of Glory.”

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 13, 2009 @ 3:31 am

  61. “I’d trade a dozen Herzog’s for the guy who directed anti-war films like “Paths of Glory.””

    Why? It doesn’t seem to me that Kubrick, with the possible exception of PATHS, has ever probed too deeply into or FELT very strongly about anything at all. He’s no anti-war, anti-violence prophet in my book. Nobody who felt so strongly about the evils of violence could make a film like A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. And the acting in his movies is mostly cartoonish: entertaining cartoons in the case of Peter Sellers, but nothing resembling the complex delineation of character one finds in Herzog. If you’re so offended by “dehumanization,” Kubrick is the last person you should celebrate, one of the most consistently cold and sourly misanthropic of all supposedly “great” directors ever. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE reverses the humane, humanistic tone of Anthony Burgess’ novel into something nasty and nihilistic. No championing the working class there!

    I blame Kubrick for the decline of Jack Nicholson from a compelling actor into a terminal ham. THE SHINING was the start of Jack’s career of chewing the scenery instead of delivering rich, full-bodied characters. And you wanna talk about racism? How can you moan about Herzog’s alleged racism, yet ignore Kubrick’s disgraceful misuse of Scatman Crothers (as a walking black stereotype) in THE SHINING, where he’s gratuitously killed off just so SOMEBODY at least can get the ax in this film! Pauline Kael, who could often be obtuse, nonetheless shrewdly noted that the audience couldn’t bear to see the mother and son get hacked to pieces, but SOMEBODY’S gotta bite it in this kind of schlock horror film, so who else could Kubrick pulverize but the old black dude?

    “I would also like to say to Chris in regards to the cite you linked too, it has problems because it makes the usual tired jab at Noam Chomsky.”

    Yeah, you’re probably right about that, but I linked to it because it accurately summed up the contents of Kinzer’s writing. I doubt he’s really read Chomsky at all carefully.

    “Dinofrio, I think many would argue has the same reputation as Bale for playing extremely distrubed individuals.”

    Well, Dinofrio has been playing the same thing over and over recently because of his Law & Order commitment. Bale has played disturbed individuals too, recently, but in the sum total of his career he hasn’t. Empire of the Sun, Little Women, Velvet Goldmine, Laurel Canyon, Rescue Dawn: these are not at all similar characters, and he doesn’t play any of them the same way, like Julia Roberts always plays every character essentially the same.

    “The odiousness of Herzog’s outlook can be glimpsed in his brusque dismissal of Jean-Luc Godard: “Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good Kung Fu film.” ”

    Look, a lot of artists say silly things about other artists. Ingmar Bergman said Orson Welles was a fraud and a hoax, Antonioni was garbage except one or two movies (and you can safely “skip the rest”), yet was full of praise for Steven Spielberg. Oh yeah, and Bergman also hates Godard and finds nothing of value in him. So what are you going to do? I watch the movies, and try to separate Bergman the filmmaker from Bergman the film critic. It’s not going to make me hate THE SEVENTH SEAL and PERSONA just because Bergman’s an asshole about other filmmakers.

    http://zakka.dk/euroscreenwriters/interviews/ingmar_bergman_03.htm

    Comment by Chris — April 13, 2009 @ 5:17 am

  62. Dave, about this:

    “It’s the Radicle middle, comprised of people like Michael rubin and Lawrence Summers that are responsible for the current financial crisis.”

    I don’t consider either of them “middle,” and I don’t consider myself “middle” either. I linked to the site because it concisely summarized Kinzer’s thesis. Whether I’d agree with anything else the author wrote I don’t know.

    “Anyway all this is based on the false assumption that there is such a thing as a movie without ideology. All movies are ideological, whether they be romatic comedies or dramas, there all expressing a way of thinking that they consider correct. Whether the filmmakers are conscously aware of them or not doesn’t matter, there still there.”

    In a very general sense this is true, but the more rich and complex the artist’s vision of the world, the less decisive the “ideological” component is. Again, as I mentioned earlier (Oscar Wilde’s phrase): “A truth in art is that whose opposite is also true.”

    Karl Marx quoted from THE LUSIADS (the Portuguese epic by Camoens), which has a reputation for being A) a great epic poem and B) an extremely politically incorrect epic poem. (Muslims are the bad guys.) The overt “ideology” in that poem makes what’s problematic in Herzog pale in comparison. If Marx can get past troublesome ideologies, why can’t Marxists? Marx also loved the novels of Balzac, but Balzac was conservative and Royalist in his politics. Again, so what? Marx correctly discerned that Balzac’s politics – not “unconscious” but fully and overtly, even didactically present – did not cancel out or smother the imaginative vision, the rich characterization, the dramatic form and structure of his novels.

    Comment by Chris — April 13, 2009 @ 5:52 am

  63. Chris wrote:

    “And the acting in his movies is mostly cartoonish: entertaining cartoons in the case of Peter Sellers, but nothing resembling the complex delineation of character one finds in Herzog. If you’re so offended by “dehumanization,” Kubrick is the last person you should celebrate, one of the most consistently cold and sourly misanthropic of all supposedly “great” directors ever.”

    This brought my mind the video of the blind date between stand-up comedian Kathy Griffin and professional poker player Mike “always busted both emotionally and financially” Matusow. Kathy Griffin’s assumption is, there is some kind of a “math genius” behind the apparent simplicity and stupidity of a poker player, but as Matusow jokingly admits, “Oh, yea, that’s me. I’m a complete moron… No, No, I’m very stupid”:

    This short dialogue exemplifies the effective stupidity and the ideological illusion of liberal humanism, just as in Herzog’s movie, it addresses the hidden human dimension behind the veil of symbolic identity: He may be an American Navy pilot but in the last instance he is a human being with complex mental and emotional richness. Albeit in reality, from the psychoanalytical perspective, he really is a Navy pilot-servant who cruelly drops bombs to serve the imperialistic intentions of the ruling classes of his country.

    In this sense, Chris’s comparison between Kubrick and Herzog about who is more eager to reflect the reality of a particular subject is merely an ideological judgment because in despite of all his efforts to depict the “cartoonish” aspect of the modern subject, Kubrick might be criticized for not adopting a more extreme style but not for caricaturizing and distorting the reality of human beings. For instance, in comparison with Peter Sellers of Dr. Strangelove, any American president (Clinton, Bush, Obama) is just a caricature of him. The same goes with the navy pilot in the movie. This is the real American navy pilot:

    “Heck, I reckon you wouldn’t even be HUMAN BEINGS if you didn’t have some pretty strong personal feelings about nuclear combat”

    Comment by Mehmet Çagatay — April 13, 2009 @ 1:05 pm

  64. Chris wrote:

    “It doesn’t seem to me that Kubrick, with the possible exception of PATHS, has ever probed too deeply into or FELT very strongly about anything at all. He’s no anti-war, anti-violence prophet in my book.”

    1st off it’s fair to make a distinction between early Kubrick & later Kubrick, the latter I agree being a pretty mixed bag, albeit that the SHINING came before JACKET. 2nd off Marxists aren’t automatically looking for an “anti-war, anti-violence prophet” in films. We’re not pacifists. We back certain sides in certain wars despite their inherent violence, particularly Civil Wars.

    So except for maybe PATHS (what an exception!) Chris would argue Kubrick was ambivalent about the nuclear holocaust potential in STRANGELOVE? It follows from that logic too then that Kubrick “FELT” nothing one way or another about the slave revolt depicted in SPARTACUS?

    In the mortal combat between Dave & HAL in Kubrick’s 2001 for example who among us doesn’t want Dave to prevail? But I guess Chris feels that Kubrick’s ambivalent about the Noir depicted in that story as well?

    (As an aside it’s interesting to note that the letters HAL come just before IBM in the english alphabet.)

    Again, talk about nuancing imperialist foreign policy — nobody better than Kubrick depicted the sadistically racist Protestant work ethic & spirit of capitalism behind the historic Liberal foreign policy of Uncle Sam in his STRANGELOVE characterization of both US officers Jack Ripper and the General gone insane played by Sterling Hayden, nevermind the human nuances of the Navy pilot played by Slim Pickens quoted by Mehmet above.

    I suppose Chris would also argue that Kubrick didn’t “care” one way or another about getting Sterling Hayden work after he starved during his blacklisting in Hollywood by McCarthyite machinations?

    It’s is pretty clear to me however that despite his fairly equal characterization of both “Commie stooges” and “Imperialist stooges” Kubrick would not have upheld the ridiculous (and ultimately reactionary) notion that “both sides” were equally to blame for the Cold War.

    Arguing that 70+ years of imperialist encirclement & strangling blockade of a peasant & workers revolt is simply the result of pernicious mutual suspicion and a two-way street of paranoia and fear is in fact the same kind of crude reductionism you so despise in Marxism, and even worse.

    Maybe if you’d spend more time uncovering the inherently racist & predatory origins of imperialist foreign policy, which is an extension of domestic policy, rather than getting sidetracked on the seemingly contradictory motivations of the ruling class that implements it, and less time getting all bunched up over slightly better than mediocre POW movies like RESCUE DAWN and writing about them — then perhaps you wouldn’t have so many complaints about the menu in this pizza parlor?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 13, 2009 @ 3:54 pm

  65. I actually feel the exact opposite, I feel Kubricks early work was a mixed bag it was his later work where he became a truly great filmmaker. The things that everyone hates about Kubrick are the things that I love. Yes acting in his movies is cartoonish, that’s because Kubrick was never interested in characters, he was interested in creating sense of place and time. He rejected hackneyed humanism and embraced a kind of asecthic deconstruction of humanitys deeds and actions. With the Exception of “A Clockwork Orange” strong characaterization would have ruined Kubricks movies.

    Also, why is everyone so down on “The Shining”. I think people miss the point in that most of the events in the film are delusions of the main charcters brought on by extreme isolation. That’s what I love about the film, that instead of going for the literal ghost story of Stephen Kings book, he transformed it into an intense fever dream inside the characters minds.

    As for Rescue Dawn, my impression from the bits I’ve seen on television is that it’s average. Sure it got a lot of good reviews, but most of them said it was good, not great. In fact some expressed disappointment that Herzog was making such a pedestrian film and that if it weren’t for Bales performance the film wouldn’t be worth watching. However, I haven’t seen enough of Herzogs work to tell the difference.

    Comment by Dave — April 13, 2009 @ 4:52 pm

  66. That’s an interesting take on the latter Kubrick to be sure, one worth pondering.

    Probably why many may have a certain aversion to “The Shining” versus other Kubrick films is because it’s his only attempt to depict the “Super Natural” unless we view the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel as merely figments of the shut-in writer’s dementia? On second thought, perhaps ambiguity is Kubrick’s goal there?

    In any case few scenes in the history of cinema evoke such primal horror like the sudden realization all those weeks of typing amounted to nothing more than the redundant sentence” “All work & no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 13, 2009 @ 5:29 pm

  67. “(As an aside it’s interesting to note that the letters HAL come just before IBM in the english alphabet.)”

    That’s a common observation, but both Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke said it was just a coincidence. Although who knows, they could have been lieing.

    I should say that while Kubrick was one of my all time favorite filmmakers, Chris is partly right in that he did have a very Hobbesian view of the world. Take this:

    Kubrick commented to the New York Times regarding A Clockwork Orange:

    Man isn’t a noble savage, he’s an ignoble savage. He is irrational, brutal, weak, silly, unable to be objective about anything where his own interests are involved—that about sums it up. I’m interested in the brutal and violent nature of man because it’s a true picture of him. And any attempt to create social institutions on a false view of the nature of man is probably doomed to failure.

    He went on to say:

    The idea that social restraints are all bad is based on a utopian and unrealistic vision of man. But in this movie, you have an example of social institutions gone a bit berserk. Obviously, social institutions faced with the law-and-order problem might choose to become grotesquely oppressive. The movie poses two extremes: it shows Alex in his precivilized state, and society committing a worse evil in attempting to cure him.”

    Now what made kubrick different from most Hobbesians is that he also went after those in authority an showed them to be just as Psychotic as everyone else. Kubrick was neither a reactionary nor a humanist, he was simply a traditional misanthrope. Then Again so was William S. Burroughs and I don’t think you should dismiss someone as a great artist because they had a pessimistic view of humanity.

    Comment by Dave — April 13, 2009 @ 6:08 pm

  68. I should say that maybe I was wrong in defining him as a Hobbesian, because Despite his pessimistic views on human nature he also held out hope:

    “Kubrick appeared to believe that freedom is still worth pursuing even if mankind is ultimately ignoble, and that evil on the part of the individual—however undesirable—is still preferable in contrast to the evil of a totalitarian society. Kubrick said in an interview with Gene Siskel:

    To restrain man is not to redeem him… I think the danger is not that authority will collapse, but that, finally, in order to preserve itself, it will become very repressive… Law and order is not a phony issue, not just an excuse for the Right to go further right.”

    Comment by Dave — April 13, 2009 @ 6:10 pm

  69. If I get around to watching Rescue Dawn of Television I feel that I could actually enjoy the movie and still agree with the points Louis made about it. I’m of the opinion that great art can be reactionary. “Heart of Darkness” is extremely rascist, yet no one disputes it’s a great book. Louis has often made this point in regards to Saul Bellow who’s writing he admires despite being rancid in his politics.

    However, I feel sometimes that Marxists misinterpret some films as fascist that are in fact the exact opposite. Two examples being “Fight Club” and “The Dark Knight”.

    With Fight Club, I must confess that this is one of my all time favorite films and the first movie I saw that truly woke me up. I saw it when I was 16 and I’d go so far to say that it was seeing that film transformed me from a conventional bourgeois liberal to a more socialist outlook. I think a lot of people in my age group would testify to this also. A lot of kids who saw that film I bet went on to become anarchists or marxist, very few I think went on to become right wingers.

    As for The Dark Knight, It amuses me to know end that a film where at the end the Heroe loses everything that right wingers see this as a validation of there beliefs. It shows how delusional the neo-cons are that despite all the damage it causes they still he Batmans cause as a worthy endeavor. The Film in my opinion is one of the most subversive mainstream blockbusters ever made. It essentially rebukes every right wing vigilante film that has ever been made form Dirty Harry on down.

    Indeed, you could make the case that the Joker is the real hero of the film.

    Comment by Dave — April 13, 2009 @ 6:42 pm

  70. If one can make sense out of his musings, it appears Mehmet is basing his comprehension of the workings of the human psyche on a staged, scripted blind date between two B-list celebs on a “reality” TV show. A TV drama reliant upon the camera subjects (a poker player and a stand-up comic) embarrassing themselves and acting juvenile for the sake of higher ratings is supposed to reveal…. what exactly, Mehmet? What this little Youtube clip featuring a pro poker player is supposed to reveal about Vietnam vets, or indeed anything at all, or what relevance it has to the merits of Herzog or Kubrick, I have no clue. But Mehmet seems to think he’s made some sort of point.

    “I’m of the opinion that great art can be reactionary.”

    Of course it can. However, reactionary or not, I find Herzog more able to discern the humanity in ordinary people and extraordinary alike, than Kubrick. Kubrick’s characters are only as repulsive, or robotic, or dehumanized as he wants them to be. He attributes to the subject matter what is really his own limitation as an artist.

    “With the Exception of “A Clockwork Orange” strong characaterization would have ruined Kubricks movies.”

    How would strong characterization have done that?

    “He rejected hackneyed humanism and embraced a kind of asecthic deconstruction of humanitys deeds and actions.”

    “Humanism” is neither hackneyed nor obsolete, and if Kubrick didn’t employ it, it was because he didn’t have the desire or insight to. And the problem with an “aesthetic deconstruction” is that Kubrick wasn’t smart enough or observant enough to say anything terribly profound about “humanity’s deeds and actions.”

    What for example was he satirizing in Dr. Strangelove? The military? The Cold War? Does he suggest ways people might avert nuclear armageddon? No. He just cracks nihilistic jokes. Peter Sellers deserves whatever credit the movie earns, for making the most of these gags, but the movie offers no hope, and no ideas, other than that we’re all fucked. In his own way, Kubrick was a precursor to the hopelessness and fashionable bleakness of our era. The very qualities Proyect objects to in the Coen Brothers, in Cormac McCarthy, in a movie like NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, are present already in Kubrick, only his subject is the fate of all of life on this planet.

    As to Karl’s,

    “In the mortal combat between Dave & HAL in Kubrick’s 2001 for example who among us doesn’t want Dave to prevail?”

    The problem with 2001 is that Kubrick deliberately chooses a pair of actors so colorless, and directs them to play their astronauts so lifelessly, one might as well prefer the computer. Contrary to what you say, most people fond of the film feel more for HAL than any other character. The computer is the most sympathetic character by default, because Kubrick (as was his wont) dehumanizes everyone else, then claims merely to be telling the truth about the dehumanizing impact of technology. If Kubrick can’t find the humanity in these technocrats, that’s his limitation. He pulls a similar stunt (as Pauline Kael rightly noted) in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, where he deliberately encourages the actors playing Little Alex’s victims to play their characters as loathsome grotesques (Patrick Magee is almost unwatchable in his bug-eyed repulsiveness – whereas in Burgess’ novel his character is sympathetic). Thus, we cannot possibly feel divided in our sympathies – we can only sympathize with Alex (Malcolm McDowell), since Alex is the only character who isn’t a repellent gargoyle. Thus, Kubrick “cheats” in order to make his satirical point. An artist with more intelligence and humanity could have attacked this society without making every member of it into a gargoyle.

    “It’s is pretty clear to me however that despite his fairly equal characterization of both “Commie stooges” and “Imperialist stooges” Kubrick would not have upheld the ridiculous (and ultimately reactionary) notion that “both sides” were equally to blame for the Cold War.”

    Then that is his failing. There would have been no Cold War without two sides. The escalation of the arms race was not an American phenomenon alone.
    Read some histories of the Soviet Union or China, for God’s sake. Read some biographies of Mao. Mao was fascinated with nuclear weaponry (more interested in acquiring advanced weapons than feeding his people). And not out of defense, either, but out of an attraction to, and romance with, the technologies of death. (And that again brings me back to Kubrick and STRANGELOVE, for the complex, dark, disturbing character of men like Mao Zedong is exactly what SHOULD be explored in films that purport to tell the truth about the nuclear arms race and the Cold War. It simply is not true that, as Mehmet implies, Kubrick’s approach is more revealing than the “ideological illusion” of liberalism. DR STRANGELOVE tells us precisely nothing about the mind of a man like Mao.)

    Comment by Chris — April 13, 2009 @ 11:57 pm

  71. “Arguing that 70+ years of imperialist encirclement & strangling blockade of a peasant & workers revolt is simply the result of pernicious mutual suspicion and a two-way street of paranoia and fear is in fact the same kind of crude reductionism you so despise in Marxism, and even worse.”

    You merely ASSERT this over and over, you do not demonstrate it. The journalist referred to, however, does demonstrate convincingly that American imperialism was most highly energized and invigorated IN OPPOSITION TO THE COUNTER-IDEOLOGY of Communism. And vice versa. (Not an earth-shattering discovery: this is how religious conflicts often happen all throughout history.)
    All of the major coups and invasions he examines have that Manichean dimension to them. It is important to remember that behind the mask, there are individual human beings making these decisions.

    You seem to start with the supposition that whatever political tenets and dogmas you learned are true, and then judge films and books based on how closely they match these dogmas, rather than ever reconsidering these dogmas in light of new information and new perspectives. Instead of constantly revising your model of reality, you accept and reject new information based only on how it stacks up to the age-old model. This may be hard to believe, but I enjoyed DR STRANGELOVE when I saw it – however the more I learned about the subject, the more it became clear to me that Kubrick’s cartoons don’t help me understand much of anything about the minds and hearts of the men who triggered the Cold War.

    Comment by Chris — April 14, 2009 @ 12:23 am

  72. Chris I have respectively disagree with you on Kubrick. I say Respectively because while others on this board may have animosity toward you, I feel you’ve made some very intelligent points. Rather than give my own defense I would like to post an excerpt from K-punks website about Kubrick:

    KUBRICK AS COLD RATIONALIST
    A (slightly) edited discussion from alt.movies.kubrick. With contributions from Gordon Stainforth, editor of The Shining.

    mark de rozario Sep 16 2002, 3:35 pm

    I want to celebrate Kubrick’s coldness and impersonality.

    Kubrick is no Romantic: he does not buy into the overprivileging of the subjective and the emotional . Nor is he, in any sense, a humanist: human beings are not at the centre of his cosmos, and his account of humanity is, to say the least, not positive. No arguments there, perhaps.

    But concluding that his rejection of these doctrines makes him a cynic, a nihilist or a remote modernist is to be misled by the humanism and Romanticism his work so effectively challenges.

    Odd that someone who made The Shining should be described as populating his films with ‘emotionless zombies.’ Jack’s homicidal fury might be many things,but emotionless? Likewise Wendy’s sustained pitch of hysterical terror. ‘Emotional zombies’ would be a better description of Jack and Barry Lyndon — helpless coquettes of the passions, dancing to someone else’s tune —

    Kubrick is clinical, analytical, and that is his greatest service to us. There is a difference between a director capable of depicting emotions and one who is emotionally manipulative. Kubrick’s films, yes, are cold, impersonal — but we have to think carefully about why ‘hot’ and ‘personal’ are the automatically-privileged terms in our post-Romantic culture. Kubrick shifts the focus away from the subjective experiencing of emotions to the (social/ cultural/ biotic/ …) machines which produce those emotions.

    Unlike most Hollywood film-makers, Kubrick is no emotional pornographer – the point is _not_ to identify with the characters. Such identification would merely reproduce the redundant subjective narcissism upon which consumer culture runs. What if the point were to escape from this hall of mirrors? To see ourselves in these characters, yes, – but from outside, instead of from inside – so that we appear not now as passionate subjects but mannequins trapped within the hideous, remorseless machines that produce and feed upon our subjective intimacies. We are all in the Overlook — locked into the treadmill repetition of someone else’s past mistakes, the viral time of abuse-begetting-abuse —- yet escape is possible: but such escape is precisely out into the impersonal, the emotionless, the cold of the Overlook snow rather than the heat of Jack’s passion.

    In this respect, Kubrick resembles Spinoza – someone who correlated passion with passivity, and who thought that freedom, far from being the default position for human beings, was something attained only when the dense accretion of repetition-compulsions and habit-programs which constitute human subjectivity was hacked through. God, Spinoza thought, could not feel hate – or love…

    Comment by Dave — April 14, 2009 @ 1:32 am

  73. Why would Kubrick’s “Strangelove” need to tell us anything about Mao any more than Herzog’s “Rescue Dawn” teaches us about General DeGaulle?

    “The escalation of the arms race was not an American phenomenon alone.”

    So as the 50s ran into the 60s when Uncle Sam had 1000 missiles on the Soviet border in Turkey and the Kremlin countered with 2 or 3 missiles 90 miles away from Florida in Cuba and Kennedy thereby threatened nuclear annihilation for this allegedly dastardly Commie crime — Chris the anarchist shouts on the Marxist blog that’s proof the true aggressor of the Cold War was… BOTH SIDES!

    1000 missiles to 3, Chris, that approximates the real ratio of aggression for both sides during 70+ years of the Cold War, nevermind that militarism was as much an impetus to Uncle Sam’s economy as defence was a drag on the USSR’s.

    True enough the pick-up-the-gun self defense squads organized in response to police brutality proved a disasterous strategy for the Black Panthers but what kind of a progressive assigns “equal” responsibility to the violence of Cops versus Black Panthers?

    You’re NEVER going to convince the typical reader here otherwise so why not go haunt another thread instead of repeatedly bashing your head against this wall of assigning “equal” blame in the Cold War. Blame we’ll concede but equal — NEVER.

    Reactionary films depicting narcisisstic 1st World flyboys damn lucky to be alive after being caught vaporizing hapless 3rd World peasants do indeed have the potential to be brilliant pieces of art — but Rescue Dawn, from what I’ve gleened here, isn’t one of them.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 14, 2009 @ 3:38 am

  74. In regards to my comments that strong characaterization would ruin kubricks films, I refer to this piece from the Sense of Cinema article on Kubrick:

    “The Killing (1956) was Kubrick’s next project and, though more widely acknowledged, it is of lesser interest. Its fractured narrative works well, though dates radically when looked at in hindsight. And while boasting wonderful performances across the board, this is the first example of Kubrick and an actor negating each other. Sterling Hayden has such a strong presence as Johnny Clay, the ringleader of a gang of thieves, that Kubrick’s manipulations of plot, character, and setting – mimicking, perhaps, his own love of chess – feel contrived and the film packs less punch because of it.”

    Kubrick didn’t work well with personalities, which is probably why in my opinion Spartacus stands as his worse film because Kirk Douglas is just too strong a personalty. I often wonder how much of that film was actually directed by Kubrick and how much was directed by Douglas. That’s why he worked best with actors with bland personas like Keir Dullea, Ryan O’Neal, Matthew Modine and yes Tom Cruise.

    Sure he also worked with strong personalties like Nicholson and Malcom Mcdowell, but that’s because they fit into his asethetic.

    I’m ambivalent on Zizek, but I like this quote from him:

    “What I despise in America is the studio actors [sic] logic, as if there is something good in self expression: do not be oppressed, open yourself, even if you shout and kick the others, everything in order to express and liberate yourself. This stupid idea, that behind the mask there is some truth. …. Surfaces do matter. If you disturb the surfaces you may lose a lot more than you account. You shouldn’t play with rituals. Masks are never simply mere masks.”

    Zizek has often talked about this current in movies where the lead hero is shown to be more complex than the cartoon we imagine and how this is a form of ideology. You see it in Movies like Munich, Waltz of Bashir, even the recent James Bond Film Casino Royale. The inner angst and suffering of the killer who is human like the rest of us. Zizek calls this a form of propoganda that serves as a justification for violence.

    I know Louis doesn’t like Zizek, bit I think he’s making a very similar point about Rescue Dawn. He feels the film’s message is “Sure the vietnamese were bombed mercilessly to pop up a puppet regime in south vietnam, but what about the american POWs, they suffered too?” and I think that line of thought rightly offends him.

    Now I don’t agree with Zizek that this type of storytelling is always bad or propogandistic. I actually really liked Munich. Rescue Dawn may just be a movie about survival and this line of thought may not apply, but I can see how Louis could view the film that way.

    The thing I love about Kubrick is exactly the thing you hate, the fact that he dares to caricature those who deserve to be caricatured. Kubrick doesn’t waste any time trying to find humanity in murders and sociopaths. Humanity to him is not worth wasting on such horrid people. He has the courage to show them as the inner grotesques they actually are.

    That’s why disagree with you that all kubrick did was make nihilistic jokes. Underneath his misanthropy I feel was a profound sadness at the barbarism human beings inflict on other human beings. Kubrick wasn’t someone who was happy to see the world burn, he was just profoundly depressed because he felt he couldn’t do anything to stop it.

    Comment by Dave — April 14, 2009 @ 3:48 am

  75. I would like to say that while that my main objection to this review was not in regards to the film itself, but to what I feel was a cheap shot against Christian Bale. I agree with Chris that Bale is an extremely versatile actor who is by no means only good at playin psychos. In fact if I had to make a list of the greatest male actors working today, Bale would definetely be on the list.

    Comment by Dave — April 14, 2009 @ 4:07 am

  76. Dave, I don’t think Fight Club’s meant to be taken too seriously: would you really want to live in a hyper-masculine,violent world like that?

    Comment by Jenny — April 14, 2009 @ 6:02 am

  77. I mean, I think a case can be made that Tyler durden’s ideology is fascist: Project Mayhem slowly becomes a very conformist group and they lose their humanity in the process(Robert Paulson’s death for instance)

    Comment by Jenny — April 14, 2009 @ 6:09 am

  78. Well Jenny I think that’s the point of the movie. That revolutionary movements can become something worse than the society there rebelling against. I think the movie at the end shows that Project Mayhem is a fascist organization.

    I’ve always felt that the one of the strongest messages of the movie is that evil can sometimes be right. Tyler Durden may be evil, but that doesn’t mean the points he makes are invalid.

    Comment by Dave — April 14, 2009 @ 8:50 pm

  79. This is what I meant by marxists misenterpreting movies as fascist when there not. You mentioned the Robert Paulson scene, well in that scene Edward Nortons character calls the Mayhem members a bunch of idiots and I think that’s the general viewpoint of the filmmakers.

    Comment by Dave — April 14, 2009 @ 9:02 pm

  80. “Dave, I don’t think Fight Club’s meant to be taken too seriously: would you really want to live in a hyper-masculine,violent world like that?”

    I think this comes form a false assumption that Fight Club is just about a bunch of sadistic, macho assholes that get there joy from beating each other up. In fact the movie really isn’t about fighting at all. It’s about a genration who have been so anesthetized by the capitalist system that they have to resort to extreme violence to feel human again.

    I think that’s what capitalism does in general. It grinds people down to where they get so desperate that they would rather choose self-destruction over the stifling atmosphere of every day life. I don’t think the movie sees that self-destruction as a good thing, it just sees it as the inevitable outcome if the current order is allowed to persist.

    I know Louis didn’t like the movie, but even so he admitted that it was a rather bold attack on the current social order.

    Comment by Dave — April 14, 2009 @ 9:10 pm

  81. I think Fight Club – like the book it’s based on – are limited by the pessimism of the original writer. The film is very effective at portraying the dehumanising qualities of modern capitalism but crucially only depicts this process occuring to members – and only the men – of the middle classes; characters like Ed Norton’s are usually perceived as the ‘winners’ of our contemporary society, which is were the film draws it’s subversive power. However the true victims of capitalism – the laid-off industrial workers, the illegal immigrant working four jobs, the homeless – are absent from the film, which is why the rebellion of project mayhem assumes such a conflicting mix of fascist and anarchist element, and more importantly, has no vision of the society that will replace that which they destroy at the film’s end.

    Comment by James O — April 14, 2009 @ 11:25 pm

  82. American Beauty and Fight Club: Consumerist Rebellion

    http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/culture/american_beauty_and_fight_club.htm

    Comment by louisproyect — April 14, 2009 @ 11:44 pm

  83. Well I would argue that the characters are the victims of todays capitalism. There the ones who have been conned into believing this myth of success.

    The problem is James O that todays working class jobs aren’t manufacturing jobs. America has largely become a service based economy. Most manufacturing jobs have either been shipped overseas or seriously downgraded. Most people today have jobs like the ones in Fight Club.

    I don’t think the members of Project mayhem can be called middle Class. If they are then there the lower middle class. Most of them work in restuarants, gas stations or low paying office jobs like Edward Nortons character. I don’t think you could call any of them successful. That’s a point the movie makes, that todays middle class is actually the secret underclass.

    Yes the movie doesn’t deal with the hardships of immigrant workers or homeless people, but are these things requirements for a movie to stand as a critique of capitalism?

    In regards to fascism, I agree with you and I think that’s the point of the movie, that fascism often rises out of the decay of capitalisms failings. I don’t think the movie sees that as a good thing, It just shows how the rot of the capitalist system eventually, like the snake eating it’s own tail, eventually destroys society itself.

    I don’t understand why this idea that in order to criticize capitalism, a film has to give a pat opitimistic view of the future. Why can’t a film just depict the reality of the situation and then let others come up with a solution? Sometimes pointing out the problem is more important than finding out the solution.

    Comment by Dave — April 15, 2009 @ 12:45 am

  84. I would also like to point this observation Louis made when Abraham polonsky, the director of Force of Evil, died:

    “Two days before his death, he went to an academy screening of “The Fight Club.” He hated the movie so much that he stormed out after an hour, stopping as he walked up the aisle to grab the arms of people he knew, saying, “What the hell are you doing, watching this piece of expletive! You should get up and walk out too!”

    Well for my generation Fight Club is our version of Force of Evil. I know that may seem like an absurd comparison, but think about, both were controversial when they came out and both criticised the captalist system.

    While I’m not sure I think it was Force of evil that got polonsky blacklisted. Well one of the producers got fired by Rupert Murdoch for making the film because it was according to Murdoch “a deviant film”. I know that’s not the same thing as being blacklisted, but still it shows that the heads of 20th century Fox didn’t view the film very favorably.

    Also, correct if I’m wrong here, but I don’t think Force of Evil was a commercial success when it first came out and only became well thought of later. Well the same could be said for Fight Club.

    Comment by Dave — April 15, 2009 @ 1:07 am

  85. Operation Mayhem is Anarchist allegory. Whatever their flaws, the Bolsheviks had a vision of the future, one, albeit hard for some nowadays to believe, disdainful of the cult-of-personality cultivated by psychopaths like Stalin, Hitler, and/or Tyler Durden.

    During Tsarism & its perfidy during WWI the Bolsheviks also won over to their side through Praxis many Anarchists (aka Russian Narodniks) whom the Bolsheviks defined sociologically as: a frustrated intellectual male who gives up on the idea of the masses’ ability to ever politically organize themselves — which explained their acts of individual terror, many of which the Bolsheviks saw as incredibly courageous but ultimately misguided.

    Although he’s obviously no anarchist, Osama Bin Laden would be a classic example of the frustrated intellectual male who resorts to such individually inspired terror tactics. Tyler Durden would be the fictional equivalent, ironic since the end of the movie shows big architectural towers collapsing reminiscent of the twin towers attack, albeit the NYC attacker came from a non-white culture historically opprssed by imperialism, nevermind the Pentagon & the CIA offices in the WTC were seen by the individual terrorist Bin Laden as legit military targets.

    Trotsky, before, during & after he led the Red Army during the Civil War, carefully explained to Narodnik-leaning workers and peasants that “a bomb in hand can be a wonderful thing — but first let’s clarify ourselves.”

    Unlike the Party of Mayhem, the Bolsheviks also set precedents for including women & historically oppressed minorities into the fold of party activity, organization & planning — as against the paternalism endemic in Great Russian Chauvanism. They were of course also the 1st attempt at a society which introduced atheist public education.

    Although it would be a detriment to dwell on in the organizational work necessary for any progressive movement today, one of the great divides in contemporary Leftist historical analysis is still those who acknowledge progressive significace in the Russian Revolution (despite its collapse) — and those who don’t.

    Thus an interesting question is: would a big studio today (or even in its so-called Golden Age) produce a fictional movie that had all of the Anarchist’s revolutionary spirit & instincts of the “Fight Club” but was organized along the lines of a Bolshevik Workers’ Council (aka Soviet)?

    Such a picture would be far more disturbing to the ruling class than images of anarchist waiters pissing into their lobster bisque, albeit far less humorous.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 15, 2009 @ 1:41 am

  86. Karl I don’t dispute anything you just said. However, as I said above in response to James O and Jenny I feel that ‘s the exact point the movie makes. That movements that start out rebelling against the capitalist order often become prey to the cult of personality fascism you mentioned.

    My point is that it for a major Hollywood movie to so bite the hand that feeds it like Fight Club is very unprecedented. I think Louis acknowledged that in his review, although he had many of the same problems with the film that you did.

    I make the point that the film shows Project mayhem as an organization that is ultimately reactionary and destructive, but the point is that groups like this are the ultimate result of the decay of the capitalist order.

    I say again that I doubt that many people of my age group who saw the film went on to become reactionaries. I’d wager many went on to join anarchist or marxist groups.

    When I was arguing at Lenin’s Tomb over the issue of whether The Dark Knight was fascist another editor made this very perceptive point:

    “For a lot of people, nihilism is a good first pass on the problem of why their lives are the way they are.”

    The point being that nihilism is often for young people a gateway ideology to more coherent ideologys like anarchism and marxism. Nihilism is cool and sexy when your young, but as you mature you see the shortcomings of it. In fact the filmmakers make this point in the DVD commentary for the film.

    Comment by Dave — April 15, 2009 @ 2:48 am

  87. Karl: the bolsheviks,however, didn’t necessairly have a free society, they never loosened their grip on the workers like it usually is with self management.

    Comment by Jenny — April 15, 2009 @ 4:32 am

  88. Jennny — please refer back to the last paragraph of comment #42 above.

    I’m sorry but it’s imperative you read more than just a commercial press or University textbook account of the Russian Revolution to comment intelligently about it.

    In nobody’s conception does seizure of state power by workers and peasants alone make a classless society aka a “free society” aka Socialism.

    Lenin defined a state as “armed gangs defending property.” The Soviet Union was a State and their “armed gangs” were compelled by, among other things, the deadly machinations of a foreign backed Contra-style civil war to “defend” their newly nationalized “property”.

    When in 1918 the united imperialists organized a counter-revolutionary army comprised of the world’s best equipped troops from 21 different capitalist countries to invaded Russia, classes hadn’t dissappeared. On the contrary, the evicted bougeoisie formed the White Guard (aka Contra in the case of Nicaragua) armies that fought with the imperialist invaders against the worker/peasant revolt, a revolt that while inspired by socialism — the Bolsheviks understood well that they were far from such a utopia.

    While Lenin saw the state as armed gangs defending property, Napoleon before him said that “an Army is a state on wheels.” The foreign financed civil war imposed on the bolsheviks compelled them to significantly buttress their army and thereby enlarge the state which could only undermine the long term goal of a “free society.” The Bolsheviks didn’t have any illusions about this, nor did the class conscious workers & peasants who organized the Soviets.

    Before bolting into auto-pilot again Jen I urge you to read “The Revolution Betrayed” for how the story continues as it’s arguably one of the greatest contibutions to the humanities ever written on the subject — as the vast majority on this forum will surely agree.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 15, 2009 @ 5:34 am

  89. ‘I don’t think the members of Project mayhem can be called middle Class. If they are then there the lower middle class’

    I think that’s a very questionable statement, given that Ed Norton’s character is able to indulge his ikea nesting instinct and buy five different kinds of capers; later in the film we find out several police officers are also members of project mayhem. There are a number of participants in project mayhem, such as the waiters, who do more low-paid jobs, yet none of these expresses any anger against their economic situation; the anger of the men who join ‘fight club’ is never shown to be motivated by being made unemployed, losing their home, struggling to pay their rent or not being able to pay their bills, which affect millions of Americans every day; their anger is purely a response to cultural decay. For the film to focus on this aspect of modern capitalism reflects the fact that it perceives the world through a middle-class lens, and also why their rebellion apes the style of fascism. The fact that the film consciously acknowledges this is to it’s credit, but by retreating into nihilism it disconnects from any meaningful form of political activity that the audience could undertake in the real world; the effect is instead that the film functions as surrogate for the anger of it’s audience before at the conclusion discharging that anger in a purely aesthetic pay-off.

    Comment by James O — April 15, 2009 @ 9:30 am

  90. ‘I don’t understand why this idea that in order to criticize capitalism, a film has to give a pat opitimistic view of the future. Why can’t a film just depict the reality of the situation and then let others come up with a solution?’

    Well, no-one has asked for the film to provide a ‘pat optimistic solution’, that’s a straw man you’ve created. However for a film to function effectively as a critique of capitalism, as you have claimed ‘Fight Club’ does, it needs to provide at least the beginnings or the suggestion of an alternative. A mere visual list of the problems of contemporary society doesn’t by itself lend a film political depth; you could praise ‘It’s a wonderful life’ on the same grounds, given that it shows many negative aspects of the negative aspects of capitalism, however neither John Ford’s film or ‘Fight Club’ depicts ‘the reality of the situation’. Fight Club is a highly stylised fantasy which makes a number of effective and entertaining points about contemporary capitalism: the ‘reality’ is massive rates of joblessness and homelessness, over-exploitation and de-unionisation, all of which you’ve stated are not ‘requirements’ in a film addressing contemporary capitalism. If ‘Fight Club’ chooses to ignore these issues and focus on middle-class angst, that’s the creators’s choice, but there’s no reason to dress the film up in revolutionary colours as a result.

    Comment by James O — April 15, 2009 @ 9:48 am

  91. Due to its non-pacifist, anarchist revolutionary spirit “Fight Club” is one of my favorite films not because it doesn’t incorporate the historically oppressed (women, brown people and the very poor) into the struggle against the powers that be (which is dissapointing) but despite it.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 15, 2009 @ 1:21 pm

  92. It’s a minor point to be sure but regarding RESCUE DAWN and the aversion Bolshevik minded commenters here have toward its subject material it’s worth reminding those who direct auto-pilot diatribes against the odious aspects of socialist revolutions in general — as well as those those who assign “equal” blame to both sides in the promulgation of the Cold war in particular — that there are still US Marines buried on Russian soil whereas the reverse cannot be said of Red Army soldiers.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 15, 2009 @ 2:42 pm

  93. Karl… RE: #92 and the number of Red Army soldiers NOT buried on US soil – This you know for a fact? Or is it just your assumption, your guess, your personal opinion? And if you say you know, where do you get such information?

    Comment by Richard Greener — April 15, 2009 @ 5:26 pm

  94. Richard: the way you pose the question: “and the number of Red Army soldiers NOT buried on US soil” is confusing as it’s not even a proper sentence but if your question really is: How do I know that Red Army soldiers never died in combat on US soil the answer is because the Soviets never invaded American territory.

    If your question is how do I know that US Marines are buried in Russia? That’s easy since 10,000 of them invaded Russia in 1918 to support the White Guard counterrevolution. They were driven out in 1920 by the Red Army that Trotsky commanded. Since many of those Marines were killed in combat over those 2 years, (by some accounts it was the 1st time Marines dropped their rifles and ran) and since it’s impossible during war to recover 100% of those Killed In Action it remains an incontrovertible historic fact that dead Marines remain under Russian soil.

    As I said it’s a minor point but of course these facts never get in the way of those who argue that “both sides were equally responsible for the Cold War.”

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 15, 2009 @ 7:25 pm

  95. James O I’m sorry if my tone sounded harsh, I assure I didn’t mean it as an insult. What I meant is that it shouldn’t be a requirement that in order for a film to be an effective critique of contemporary society that it has give an alternative. In some desperate circumstances nihilism can actually serve a pratical purpose. Sometimes it’s better to be destructive rather than just let the status quo go on becasue no one has figured out a good alternative yet.

    I think the film articulates well with the line “fuck damnation, fuck redemption” meaning that it’s better to be damned than it is to be nothing. Hell is usually preferrable to purgatory.

    There’s another Zizek line than I like “Why is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine an end to capitalism”.

    I realize that the film is a highly stylized fantasy and I would never compare Fight Club’s critque of capitalism to a film by Ken Loach who’s films are much more realistically show class conflict. Sometimes though fantasys can have more truth in them than the most forceful social realist film can.

    There are a lot of popular fantasy films that I feel give a greater critque of capitalism than a more reality based film ever could. Films Like:

    Robocop

    Blade Runner

    The Terminator Films to some extent

    The Matrix

    Children of Men

    They may not cover every aspect of class conflict, but they express out collective anxieties that something isn’t right. I think the average public is more attuned to this than people think, there just afraid to fully embrace it because they have had the concept that socialism is bad drilled into there heads for 60 years.

    I am not invalidating the work of people like Ken Loach, Mike leigh, Costa Gravas, John Sayles and Jean Luc-Godard, I think there work is brilliant. I just feel that they shouldn’t be the only ones considered worthy enough the critque capitalism.

    Comment by Dave — April 15, 2009 @ 9:02 pm

  96. I would just like to say james O that despite this I think your critique of the film is very valid. It does focus on the dissafected yuppy class and not on the exploited immigrant workers and out of work steel workers.

    The Point I was making is that the guys in Fight Club are the idiots in the 80’s who actually believed Reagans edict that everyone could be rich, only to have those dreams hit a brick wall in the 90’s. There jobs ended up either being stifling or low paying service jobs. In other words the type of morons easily manipulated by someone like Tyler Durden.

    For My generation Fight Club was the Anti Wall Street. Whereas Oliver Stones film made a whole generation want to be greedy assholes, I think Fight Club had the opposite effect in making a whole generation never want to go near a board room.

    I defend the film because as I said above I credit it with transforming me from a standard liberal to a more socialist outlook. I think many of my generation would say the same.

    Comment by Dave — April 15, 2009 @ 9:16 pm

  97. This is perhaps the trend that Dave is referring to:

    http://www.moreintelligentlife.com/blog/bring-socialism

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 17, 2009 @ 12:21 am

  98. There are moments in the film clearly included to create a bit of balance, such as the opening montage of napalm bombing. It goes on for a long time in a flyover shot, and though we don’t see any flying bodies of women and children, the point is quite clear that these were villages with many civilian victims being destroyed.

    The other key moment for me was at the end, when Dieter emerges from the helicopter to the hero’s welcome in the aircraft carrier. Herzog places an obese loud-mouthed American in front of the emaciated Dieter as the “emcee”, cheapening the moment for everyone. The obnoxious emcee, an obvious image of the “ugly tourist” American, asks Dieter if he “God and country” got him through it. It was a Fox TV anchor moment. Dieter pauses and says he just wants a good steak. Maybe ironic, since fat guy can relate to this. Maybe Herzog should have had the fat emcee yell, “Hell, yeah! I can relate! With a baker’s dozen doughnuts on the side to wash it down!”

    Comment by Jerry — April 17, 2009 @ 3:48 pm

  99. It’s precisely that little “bit of balance” (plus better acting) that kept Louis from categorizing it as another Chuck Norris movie.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 17, 2009 @ 4:08 pm

  100. “The Bolsheviks didn’t have any illusions about this, nor did the class conscious workers & peasants who organized the Soviets”

    Yes,but I’ll bet the other soviets weren’t aware of this. This was just inside knowledge, no?

    Comment by Jenny — April 25, 2009 @ 3:48 am

  101. Finally got a chance to see “Rescue Dawn” today. Being very familiar with the history of both French & American incursions into Vietnam I conclude that Lou’s interpretation provides an accurate & therfore valuable review.

    Jenny — As far as the history of civil wars goes the Bolshevik government was probably the most transparent government of any in that ever endured a civil war.

    Here’s a good primer on the subject from the bolshevik perspective, one that should help you put the “us versus them” mentality into some meaningful historical context, particularly since it was written by the general who led the red army during that war.

    http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1920/terrcomm/index.htm

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 26, 2009 @ 4:06 am

  102. Chomsky disagrees with you: http://www.chomsky.info/articles/1986—-.htm

    Comment by Jenny — May 7, 2009 @ 7:41 am

  103. Jen – You’d probably get more insights into Chomsky’s body of work by trying to figure out what he’d say about a film like “Rescue Dawn” rather than trying to convert Marxists to Liberalism on Proyect’s forum but since you persist on linking that article to multiple threads here you should note that nowhere in Chomsky’s little article does he demonstrate that the Bolshevik government was “less transparent” than some another regime faced with the life & death struggle of a CIVIL WAR.

    Moreover, nowhere in Chomsky’s writings will you find the argument that the Russian Revolution has no progressive significance. On the contrary.

    In his series of lectures & writings on the “500 Year Reich” during the collapse of the USSR he points out how since 1492 the European plunderers & exploiters (who now find their power most concentrated in the USA) would periodically meet organized resistance by the historically oppressed but those rebellions were always smashed. He then illustrates how the Russian Revolution was also such a rebellion of the exploited that, like all the others before it, ultimately got smashed by the same murderous marauders but since it was a big country with huge army it couldn’t be smashed in a weekend like Grenada.

    Needless to say he also demonstrates how Uncle Sam’s expressed goals of “Freedom & Democracy” has little in common with those ideals & the gaseous rhetoric of public school civics classes:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=9hmkUdE43_cC&pg=PA3&lpg=PA3&dq=chomsky+500+year+reich&source=bl&ots=-GEMtj49kz&sig=ELdzx91gzqGnBMQzZmlEaVIMr0g&hl=en&ei=L9cCSvzSDIe0tAOQucHvAQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1#PPP1,M1

    What makes you think that Chomsky’s critique of the Bolsheviks holds any more water than all the other anarchists, liberals & social democrats before him? Scores of similar articles have be written since the 20s — none of which have diminished the progressive significance of the Russian Revolution.

    Not only are you not the 1st liberal who mistook Chomsky for a Marxist but you’re also apparently unaware of how much political credibility Chomsky lost during the outset of the 1st Gulf War in 1991 where initially he was for “sanctions” as an alternative to invading Iraq. Tragically, Iraq got both in the end: invasion and UN sanctions which, according to the UN’s own World Health organization, murdered through slow death about a million Iraqis through the 90s, typically the most vulnerable in society — old people & children. In light of that — bombing would have actually been more humane!

    You should also note Jen that in 1992 Chomsky gave a lecture that I attended at Bowling Green State University in Ohio entitled “The 500 Year Reich” detailing how the collapse of the USSR would prove to be a BAD thing for the majority on the planet’s inhabitants — the Third World — much to the chagrin of my social democrat colleagues who invited me. You see at that time, Chomsky argued, most Third Worlders saw the Soviet model of development as a potential answer to their grinding poverty, disease, illiteracy & endemic unemployment.

    As I said previously I once met a Latin American Studies grad student who travelled South as part of her dissertation to poll homeless women squatting in tin shacks on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The question posed to the squatter women was, if given a choice, what kind of society they would prefer: one in which they had no economic rights except to sell their labor (or body) but were free to jump onto a soapbox in the town square and preach whatever popped into their head; or a society in which basic human needs were met, housing, medicine, employment, education, etc, but preaching on a soapbox could get you arrested.

    Which society do you think the poor women chose Jenny?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 7, 2009 @ 2:02 pm

  104. The second I bet. And do you like Chomsky or not? I know he’s not a marxist, he’s a liberatarian socialist.I just thought he made a good argument in the article, if you don’t see it, fine.

    Comment by Jenny — May 7, 2009 @ 11:27 pm

  105. And stop being so condescending.

    Comment by Jenny — May 7, 2009 @ 11:27 pm

  106. Did you even read the article I posted, he said Leninism was just another dictatorship or at least a corrupted version of Marxism.

    Comment by Jenny — May 7, 2009 @ 11:35 pm

  107. Jenny — I had coffee with Chomsky after that lecture described above in Jan. or Feb. 1992 at the “Grounds For Thought” bookstore in Bowling Green, Ohio.

    That’s when he told me, much to my chagrin, that he “supported UN sanctions as an alternative to invading Iraq.”

    Do I like him? Sure, just not some of his politics.

    Did I read the article? Of course, and judging from your posts, probably before you were born.

    You’ve got in my view a naive, narrowminded view of what a “dictatorship” is but Chomsky would likely agree with me that only a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie could issue a decree that, against the wishes of probably 90% of the population, handed over almost a trillion dollars to giant, incompetent, banks.

    By contrast: what would a movement look like that was powerful enough to ram through free healthcare, end forever imperialist wars, trillion dollar bank bailouts, chronic unemployment, foreclosures & homelessness? Whether you like or not it not, Jenny, it would look something like a dictatorship of the proletariat.

    As far as a “corrupted version of Marxism” (whatever that means?) –what else could a socialist revolution in a backward country ruined by Imperialist War look like?

    As if there’s some “uncorrupted version” of capitalism somewhere?

    You see Jen, under the current “corrupted version” of capitalism, or an idealized uncorrupted one (an oxymoron) — the bosses, bankers & landlords “dictate” to working people the way it’s going to be.

    If you’re against that system then please note the only way it will be stopped is when working people “dictate” to the bosses, bankers & landlords the way it’s going to be.

    If you envision a third way then please enlighten us as Chomsky links will be of no help and accusing your political opponents of condescention won’t substitute for meaningful rebuttal in a debate.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 8, 2009 @ 12:58 am

  108. “You’ve got in my view a naive, narrowminded view of what a “dictatorship” is but Chomsky would likely agree with me that only a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie could issue a decree that, against the wishes of probably 90% of the population, handed over almost a trillion dollars to giant, incompetent, banks.”

    But you never seriously examine what sort of philosophical, moral, and religious suppositions underpin such a society in the first place. You never ask yourself why the so-called dictatorial “bourgeoisie” behave the way they do. A great artist (like Herzog) does not simply categorize human beings according to their class or social status or era, but dramatizes subtle differences in temperament and personality (even in AGUIRRE each character in the film has a distinctive personality – and Aguirre’s own madness and volality is certainly NOT explained by him being a conquistador – at least, not fully.)

    You simply assume economics and “the system” lies behind everything, instead of ask what sort of religious and moral attitudes would be most likely to produce a particular economic system in the first place.

    Marx thought a nation’s economy shapes its worldview, whereas Max Weber thought a nation’s worldview shapes its economy. Weber does a far better job of explaining how the United States, for example, came to be the way they are. Read David Hacket Fischer’s ALBION’S SEED for instance to see how folkways and religious traditions affected the economic and political unfolding of different regions of the country.

    Marxists often condescendingly refer to anyone who doesn’t share their religious precepts and theological dogmas as naive and uninformed, but their own reading of history could stand no serious scrutiny. To put it bluntly, Marx can’t hold a candle to Weber, let alone great artists like Shakespeare, as an elucidator of why things are the way they are, or how the modern world got to be in its present state.

    Comment by Chris — May 9, 2009 @ 10:33 pm

  109. “Marx can’t hold a candle to Weber…” Chris says.

    You’re half-right Chris, but only because Marx’s personal politics & strength of character, were he a contemporary of Weber’s, would never have so perfidiously greased the Weimar wheels after the execution of Rosa Luxembourg for Hitler’s Facism.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 10, 2009 @ 4:01 am

  110. In addition to being a non-sequitur (not directly addressing whether Weber’s ideas or Marx’s tend to be more illuminating on the origins and etiology of capitalism), your rose-colored glasses approach to biography is illegetimate. You “know” Marx’s “strength of character” would lead him to behave in such-and-such a manner, but in the same breath you admit that his uneventful life doesn’t provide any evidence in the matter. That Marx is your personal Jesus doesn’t make him a saint or Weber a sinner, though your fact-free fantasy about their respective “characters” is remarkably analogous to what any religious dogmatist does: exalting “saints” within their tradition (irregardless of what the historical record shows) and denouncing “heretics” outside the tradition. This is not sober factual analysis (as it likes to masquerade as) but the shrill rhetoric of religious zealotry (which is what most Marxist analysis tends to be when Marxism is employed not as one interpretive model among many, but as the Alpha and Omega of a person’s thought).

    Marx was a man, not a god. He had his virtues and his vices like anyone else. He was certainly not the deepest thinker about capitalism (or socialism) who has ever lived, any more than Freud is the world’s greatest psychologist. But at least some of what is known about Marx’s character (his wrathfulness, his prejudices, his perpetual disgruntlement and general air of joylessness) is not particularly admirable or appealing.

    Comment by Chris — May 10, 2009 @ 4:13 pm

  111. True enough the efficency of bureaucracy from the point of view of delivering the goods may be the inevitable outcome of industrial organization which leaves the anarchist bitter about the future but in the class struggle bureaucracies are used by different classes for different purposes.

    Leave it to the commentor who doesn’t like pizza to come up with a reply that totally avoids the question of Weber greasing the wheels of Facism with his perfidious personal politics during Weimar’s capitulation to Hitler.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 10, 2009 @ 5:10 pm

  112. Comments are now closed for this post. When I created this blog, I never expected anything I wrote to generate more than 100 comments. Clearly, if people had stuck to the movie and to the question of art and politics, it would be far less than 100. As a rule of thumb, I really expect commenters to focus on the matter at hand and will be flexible as the need arises. But we are beating a dead horse at this point.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 10, 2009 @ 5:19 pm


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,040 other followers

%d bloggers like this: