Monday, September 05, 2005

We Are Back in the Saddle, and Boy are We Pissed Off.

So NBC was stabbing me in the heart a million times by playing the clip of Jefferson Parish President Broussard completely breaking down discussing the death of an elderly parent of a staff member. This was on the flight back across the country. Video here. I can't discuss the hurricane now, only that Barbara Bush seems to not be the nice old lady we thought she was. Link here. Now that we know Babs is evil like the rest of them, we can imagine her saying a little something to her son. This is giving me a deja vu moment, I know I thought this before, but the quote from the evil Hitchcock mom in Notorious to son played by Claude Raines is appropriate here:
You're protected by the enormity of your stupidity, for a time.

I also saw The Constant Gardener today. I will point you to my conservative friends appreciative review once he gives me a link. I will (not) briefly discuss the films merits and possible failures.

Any film regardless of true merit can be deemed a success or a failure based on one simple metric: did I enjoy watching it, and did I find it compelling? The answer for this one is I found it to be emotionally compelling and intellectually damning concerning European and American imperialist and post-colonial policy in Africa. This is to say nothing of Big Pharma. The bogeyman in this film could have easily been Foreign Policy, mining interests or an oil company, if only Africa had oil to speak of. As for the "love" story, it could not have been more conservative. A sexually liberal woman ultimately redeems her insulated and repressed husband. I feel like Twisty Faster will hate the film, unless she has a secret love of Graham Greene, to whom this film and any Englishman amongst the world film really owes a debt.

As to much criticism of the film, the arguments are specious and ad hoc. Here are some- the film "doesn't truly care" about the plight of Africans, it is "merely using them for its own interests." I find this to be interesting. In this case, is it then therefore impossible to fictionally represent actual truths of any minority or non-Western culture in a commercial film? This is total cobaggery.

Second: the film has been criticised for the depiction of native Africans and poor Kenyan neighborhoods as almost fetishistic in the color and lighting, and it almost enshrines them and their suffering with a false nobility. I find it pretty hilarious that conservodroids fall back on their dusty copies of Susan Sontag's "On Photography" for this criticism. I think they forgot the reason they owned that book was to mock it. It just doesn't hold water.

Third: the movie is said to be unfair in criticism of big pharma. This is also ridiculous. The movie is fiction, the proposition that a corporation of any kind could have less than stellar motives is not necessarily a criticism of all corporations or even capitalism for that matter. We could easily have ethically upstanding corporations that played by the rules, hence Capitalism does not have to be evil. Since we have voluminous evidence of corporate graft and malfeasance to the contrary of the notion of "Enlightened Corporatism", there is no problem in having a corporate bad actor in collusion with corruption both Western and African, because what drives corruption, money and power, and who has that?

Finally, I single out this douchebag extraordinaire at

And I quote:
That not a shred of blame for the continent’s dire situation is placed on Africa's corrupt, homegrown governments reveals The Constant Gardener’s unbalanced political agenda, but such disingenuousness is part and parcel of a film in which Pete Postlethwaite’s Dr. Lorbeer says, without a trace of irony, “Big pharmaceuticals are up there with arms dealers.”

You have got to be kidding me. Apparently he was in the bathroom where the film explicity showed Africa govt. corruption and ruthless African thugs doing ruthless things. I have a question for our sad, misguided reviewer: where does the money and influence come from that leads Africa into this den of poverty, despair, corruption and violence? Could it not be centuries of colonial and post-colonial rule? Could it not be the exploitation and graft of western countries in their desire for African resources? Could it not be the ridiculous health policy of the current administration that desires Africans to only practice abstinence in the face an AIDS onslaught? What about the destabilization of democratically elected govts and the propping up of ruthless dictators? Just how do entire swaths of the African populace become armed? Given that Western capital could easily be posited as the engine of African government corruption, why would the blame better fall upon the Africans desperation driven ethical deficiencies rather than our own, which seem to lack any compelling excuses besides greed?

Finally, our intrepid reviewer states:
Meirelles’ film takes the stand of Bob Geldof’s recent Live 8 concerts, which claimed to be about shining a spotlight on Africa yet were instead venues for narcissistic whites who believe that the only way to save Africa is through Caucasian intervention. Look at all the despondent dark-skinned natives, Meirelles’ supercilious film asks of us, and now watch some decent, righteous light-skinned folks come to their aid.

As mentioned above, since Western bad actors as a whole can be considered driving forces in African corruption (which is explicitly shown in the film to collaborate whole-heartedly with Caucasian moneyed interests), why the hell would it be wrong to suggest that those with power could ultimately be part of the solution. I will actually go out on a limb and consider this quote from our reviewer to be racist in its core, the sad thing is I have no idea of the ethnicity of our reviewer, he could easily be African in descent as this sort of rhetoric can be heard on both sides of the racial divide. In considering the problems and solutions to Africa's troubles, I do not think the film need give time to the "Africa, heal thyself" solution, this could only be valid in the absence of continued outsider malfeasance.

As for criticism that the film used natives as essentially wallpaper for the story of a white man's theatre of narcissism, I would counter that with the argument that the entire story was told for a Western audience by a Western writer about a Western character. Perhaps no Westerners should have been included, and only Kenyan characters used. Of course the critcism then would have been that the characters rang hollow, they appeared to be too noble and that they were merely devices for the Western screenwriters false enshrinement of blah blah blah blah. You could make an "Orientalist" type argument for any possible permutation of this film, therefore it ceases to be useful. These arguments essentially suggest that there could be no possible way to show anything related to African poverty and problems. They are just complete bunk. A criticism that the film treats Africans as essentially teeming, faceless, colorful masses could easily be countered with how are they considered even at all in America? There are many small details in the film that are not underlined for the more brain dead in the audience.

These things being said, the two most chilling scenes: an inteview between Ralph Fiennes character and the local police that illustrates the enormity of corruption and the ease with which any disenfranchised person could be snuffed out. Second, the depiction of a Darfur-like attack on a Sudanese village that perhaps can be called a pulled punch regarding the genocide and atrocities in that country. What is most compelling is that Darfur is not mentioned in the film and much of the audience would not know that the anatomy of the attack shown is probably legitimate in every way except that it probably lacks for scope of true barbarity.

A must-see film, not necessarily for its story (as easily criticised as The English Patient which I loved). Not necessarily for its direction (can be criticised for its possibly auterish excess, although I considered the Malick-esque naturalism to be stunning and important for giving room in the film to contemplate the absolute atrocities both shown and implied and the soul-crushingly enormity of the poverty). Not necessarily for the acting (I found it to be perfectly understated and opaque at times, others might find it inexpressive). An easily criticizable, possibly too slow (I found it meditative) film that I would urge you to see, as the Three Bulls! audience are not merely sheep of the left or raving right wing loonies, and whatever personal drawbacks one might have, I don't think the film will leave you unaffected.
If anyone ever read this far, I'd like comments if you've seen the film. Chester?