Friday, January 30, 2015

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

Okay, now that Musick Hund is now off-line and I'm taking my blog back over, here is my rather sick nod to The Zodiac and the investigation that made Arthur Leigh Allen a front-and-center suspect, this was his favorite book.  BTW:  I'm pretty sure Allen wasn't the Zodiac.  

Musick Hund: Sir Patrick And The World War II Interpretation Of The Scottish Play

Macbeth (2009)

We began with Shakespeare and Patrick Stewart, so let’s end that way too! Not much to say about this production except to note that it sets the action of the play in WWII era of the Soviet Union, so Arendt’s comments on the Stalinist terror are seen to apply remarkably well to this play written circa 1606.

This version is available on Amazon Prime and you may also stream it free here.

Musick Hund: Conceptual Violence Of Totalitarian Rule VS. Freedom Of Musical Expression

Shostakovich Against Stalin: The War Symphonies (1997)

From Hannah Arendt’s “On Violence”:

Nowhere is the self-defeating factor in the victory of violence over power more evident than in the use of terror to maintain domination, about whose weird successes and eventual failures we know perhaps more than any generation before us. Terror is not the same as violence; it is, rather, the form of government that comes into being when violence, having destroyed all power, does not abdicate but, on the contrary, remains in full control. … The decisive difference between totalitarian domination, based on terror, and tyrannies and dictatorships, established by violence, is that the former turns not only against its enemies but against it friends and supporters as well, being afraid of all power, even the power of its friends. The climax of terror is reached when the police state begins to devour its own children, when yesterday’s executioner becomes today’s victim. There exist now a great many plausible explanations for the de-Stalinization of Russia—none, I believe, so compelling as the realization by the Stalinist functionaries themselves that a continuation of the regime would lead, not to insurrection, against which terror is indeed the best safeguard, but to paralysis of the whole country.

I’ve quoted Arendt at length here because no words of mine could sum up so well the reality depicted in this first-rate documentary on the amazing music and precarious political situation of the twentieth century’s greatest composers of symphonies.

This clip is not actually from this documentary, but uses some the same imagery to accompany this movement of the 8th symphony.

Musick Hund On World War II And Jewish Resistence

Next up "Defiance" (2008). Based of the true story of two brothers in Nazi occupied Belarus who led a community of Jews hiding in the forest where their family ran a smuggling operation before the war.

This well-made film tells a story that is compelling without any help from theoretical concerns about the nature of violence. However, it's in the mix today because it deals with a group of individuals that must find a way to form a community in the midst of war, occupation and mass murder, without resorting to unnecessarily coercive methods. 

The movie opens with the SS murdering thousands of Jews across several communities, both rural shtetl and urban ghettos. The two protagonists, Tuvia and Zus Beilski (Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber) both want revenge against the Polish gentiles that informed on their family, but the task of killing the man responsible goes the the elder and less hot-tempered Tuvia. This denial of specific personal vengeance, along with all the other unimaginable losses of loved ones, including parents wives and children drives Zus into a near perpetual state of homicidal rage that threatens to tear the forest community apart. Zus soon leaves to join the Red Army, leaving his brother to lead the fragile camp of refugees. The pivotal scene comes when a group of fighters attached to the camp refuses to do their share of the work and demands a greater share of food. In order to preserve the egalitarian spirit of the camp, Tuvia kills the leader of the rebellious fighters with a bullet between the eyes. The movie lingers on the deeply paradoxical, but ultimately just nature of this act. I merely wish to call attention to the idea that film depict this killing as both morally and politically just. Reasonable people can disagree on whether it is morally just. But it seems to me harder to dismiss the political justice of it. I think the film SHOWS it to be politically just because even though there are community members who would object to the killing on moral grounds (even if the film does not), Tuvia is shown to lead and act by mutual consent of the whole group. The camera does not show him taking matters into his own hands, but rather reveals him at that moment as a political actor in the public space that has evolved in their little community.

Some Thoughts From Me On The Zodiac (2007)

I have a thing about unsolved mysteries, especially those involving un-caught serial killers (think Jack The Ripper--or others that were ultimately solved--BTK, Green River Killer, etc.)--so I knew a thing or two about this case when the film came out in 2007.  There is always a risk when directors of merit tackle large film projects based on real events.  I basically look at the running time for such films and if the film is less than 110 minutes long--I pretty much figure it's isn't going to be that good, because real life is so much more complicated when placed in narrative terms, than an old fashioned movie script fabrication.  At 155 minutes, this David Fincher directed effort has become one of my favorite "based on a true story" films.

Still from the film showing the Zodiac as he was dressed at the Lake Berryessa attack

The film focuses on the work of writer and cartoonist Robert Graysmith (assayed by Jake Gyllenhaal in the film), who worked for the San Francisco Chronicle at the time that the first Zodiac letters posted to the paper's editor arrived there in 1968.  He published a book of his research as assertions of who he believed the Zodiac was (Arthur Leigh Allen) in 1986.  It is mostly this book that the script focuses on, but what I like about the script is that it widens out from the focus of the book, and includes a lot of actual history of the case, told in a very straight forward fashion (this comprises basically the first half of the film).  This includes discussions at the Chronicle, police work and other people with whom the person or persons who claimed to be The Zodiac Killer communicated.  

Actual wanted poster for The Zodiac

The film really, just by telling a true story, presents an almost perfect picture of the banality of evil and a serial murder case that seems to have be conceived purely as acts of violence as a pure concept; the fun of terrorizing seemed more of a high for this person(s) than actual murder--the murders seemed contrived to further this end rather than being the primary motivation in their own right.  What motivated this "concept" of terror and murder as an actual undertaking is any one's guess, but it is rather unique in the annals of crime.  Anyone who has actually read the letters attributed to The Zodiac (many have been discredited) will encounter a great deal of threats that were never carried out.  This says a whole lot about what the true motivations were for these horrific crimes; they seem contrivances of a bored individual who is clever, but by no means smart or particularly well educated--but highly motivated to keep writing (there are numerous misspellings in the Zodiac letters of words that are rather simple (including words from cyphers)--and they do not appear to be done on purpose--like for example, The Chronicle received a letter from a person claiming to be The Zodiac in early 1974 praising the film The Exorcist for being "the best saterical comidy I have ever seen"--the handwriting matched earlier authenticated letters).  In another case a woman who had a very close call with The Zodiac when she (at seven months pregnant) and her 10 month old daughter were kidnapped by this creep after he had pulled them over, he calmly told her "you shouldn't smoke, it's bad for you," and then just as calmly told her that he was going to kill her and her daughter (she got away from him with her child when he stopped at an intersection).  Talk about banal!!  It obviously made him rather angry though, because he returned to her car and gutted & torched it.  This says another thing about the character of this killer that does appear to be a shared trait of serial killers--they can't stand it when their sense of control is taken from them.

Another aspect to this crime spree is that it most likely involved more than one person.  No one can be sure, of course, and won't be until it is solved, if it ever is.  If one looks at several aspects of the story, there are at least two places where it seems that two individuals had to be involved, this includes a murder committed in San Francisco that is positively attributed to The Zodiac (see photo of a cabby shot Presidio Heights above).  Even Graysmith, who I don't believe ever came to this conclusion himself, thought another guy was the Zodiac during a period of time early in his investigation for his book.  If you are going to watch the film, look out for the super creepy scene where Graysmith goes to visit a independent theater owner, and finds out that the man has a basement, where he keeps film canisters (basements are very rare in San Francisco), upon questioning the man about his showing The Most Dangerous Game in his theater some years before, Graysmith mentions that the handwriting on the hand made poster for the film looked very much like that of The Zodiac Killer--he is then informed that theater owner made the poster himself!  The Most Dangerous Game, an early talkie from 1932 centers around a man who hunts people who are ship wrecked on his island (worth watching for another study of Violence As A Concept--and remade as The Beast Must Die [this time with werewolves] in 1974), a film mentioned in the Zodiac letters.  If indeed their were two people working together in the commission of these crimes, it further advances the notion that this must have been rather calmly planned--a concept carried out and apparently stopped when it is no longer "fun."  This is really the only explanation as to why these particular murders stopped--as no one seriously considered a suspect in the case has ever matched being in prison, otherwise incarcerated or out of the northern California area during periods of communication hiatus.

Actual composite of the Zodiac from Berryessa, see film image above.

Also if it is the case that more than one person was responsible for these crimes, it would also explain the persistence of any real advances in solving the case.  Around the time that the murders started, the FBI was in the midst of a real (and needed) change in philosophy about serial killer behavior and a change in the methodology in the way they went about hunting them.  When the FBI was created, it was widely regarded that serial killers always went about in twos; the reason for this wrong-headed notion I have never been able to find out, but suffice to say that it persisted for far longer than it should have.  In the late 1960's, after several of these creatures had been caught, it became clear that they were solitary people with deeply personal reasons for the motivation to maim, torture, kill and mutilate other people.  But, human behavior is never an absolute, so it stands to reason that a least one set of serial murders would have to be committed by two or more persons, just from a probability math point of view alone.  If this was the case with The Zodiac Murders, then the police and the FBI have been barking up the wrong tree.  A close examination of the victimology suggests this to be the case, especially the Presidio murder.

Whoever committed the murders, one person or two, they certainly didn't have the "normal" motivations of a serial killer.  As stated above the motive here seems to have been one of planned and carefully carried out, and very, very public set of crimes.  These person or persons would certainly have gotten a real kick from the fact that they spawned not one but two copycat murder sprees years later (assuming that they were still alive at the time); one in New York City and one in Kobe, Japan.  One was solved (NYC), the other was not.  Copycat murders are basically the only other murder motivation that is purely conceptual and are truly acts of violence as a concept.

Musick Hund On The Zodiac (2007)

David Fincher’s “Zodiac” seems like a good followup to “CWO” for a couple of reasons. First, Fincher seems to be quite influenced by Kubrick’s obsessively meticulous methods. Second, the Zodiac killer, or killers (the film strongly suggests it may have been the work of two men) seemed to view what they were doing as some kind of game (as in the book and movie “The Most Dangerous Game”). It’s as if they never grew out of the mindset of Alex in the first act of “CWO” but as adults they are not content to merely kill and maim, they concoct their violent acts as public provocations designed to whip up a grotesque media opera of lurid curiosity, fear and paranoia.

The importance of the theory that two men and not a lone serial killer did these crimes cannot be overstated, for it suggests a pathology that needs to share the created spectacle with another in the know, turning individual killings into a perceived threat to the entire community. That feeling that the whole community—a major city—is under threat is what is to be shared and savored. It’s as if the Zodiac killers were taking revenge against American society for consigning them to ordinariness. That’s not a pathology that the psycho-sexually oriented forensic psychologists of that time were were likely consider, nor were the media likely to deviate from the comfortably inscrutable story of the lone psycho, which fits much more neatly into the grooves of various American myths of rebellious individualism and outlawry. Perhaps now this kind of pathology might bubble up in comparative youth, in, say, the recent mass shootings perpetrated by frustrated and angry young men. Most of those men were or are mentally ill, however, and it is by no means clear that the Zodiac, lone wolf or duo, though undoubtably a deviant or deviants, could be called such. He was, or they were, content to remain unknown, to relish the stupendous private joke whose butt was the whole of the public realm. The Zodiac killings were utterly unique to their time.

The Rocking Machine (about phalluses)

This is a repost from October 2011.

"Leave that alone!  Don't touch it!  It's a very important work of art!"

A Clockwork Orange has always had am infamous reputation, pretty much from start to finish.  But even within it's own outrageous confines, the "killed by a giant penis" scene stands out.  Question is who created this thing??  

Well Dutch artist Hermann Makkink did.  He sculpted it in 1970 and called it "The Rocking Machine" for reasons that are obvious in the film.  Funny thing about the piece--which I guess in an inside joke--is that Makkink created it to be touched.  I guess it's sort of statement of how full of shit the owner of the "health farm" is...there with all her cats and rocking penis sculpture that she won't let anyone...well...rock!  You can view a nice gallery of his sculptures here, including The Rock Machine. You can view the clip on You Tube here.

On display.

If all of this wasn't outrageous enough, I recently, and accidentally, ran across the inspiration for this sculpture, if you can believe it, doing research on Moche food pottery for my Native Food Blog New World Food.  Check out these Pre-Incan phallus pots from the Andes below.  If you notice the pot furthest to the right and, well...there it is, and thousands of years old to boot!

HONESTLY!  You can't make this stuff up!!

Musick Hund On A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange” is one of the deepest movies ever made on the subject of violence. Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s novel sets up the issue in a very unsettling way. We cannot help but be drawn into Alex’s point of view, and this is unsettling precisely because he finds violence to be a joyous celebration of pure agency. The movie forces us, vicariously, to feel that too.

There’s a sense in which—in the first act of the film— Alex and his droogs exist, as it were, in a “state of nature” insofar as violence is concerned. This is underscored by Alex’s response to the idea of going after the “big big money” (instead of the hardcore mayhem and petty theft he is drawn to, as he is drawn to the music that makes up the soundtrack to his violent fantasies), “And what will you do with the big, big, money? Have you not everything you need? If you need a motor-car, you pluck it from the trees. If you need pretty polly, you take it.” This sounds a lot like Rousseau’s description of labor-free humans in the state of nature in “A Discourse on Inequality.” Planning a score starts to sound a lot like work to carefree Alex. So he reasserts his pack leadership through an act of violence that Kubrick presents as a slow-motion ballet. 

However, as Alex soon finds out, his power over his mates must be consensual, not coercive. In Arendtian terms, he conflates power and violence, not realizing that his strength as a leader derived almost entirely from the willingness of his droogs to be lead. Alex ends up in the hands of the state, and the state ends up making the same mistake he did. The “Ludovico Technique” is high tech version of the sorting out of obedience that Alex thought he had successfully administered to his droogs. It backfires for the same reason, namely that moral or immoral behavior is, a the padre remarks, entirely matter of choice, or else it is merely a matter of instrumental coercion, which, in Arendt’s terms, can only be applied instead of power, not as a means to it.

Hamlet With David Tennant And Patrick Stewart

Let’s get some concepts on the table while we watch Hamlet (BBC, 2009)

In her 1969 essay “On Violence” Hannah Arendt argues for a more rigorous distinction between violence and power in the discourse of political theory. She especially wants to challenge the conventional notion that violence somehow underwrites power. In her view, violence and power have a reciprocal inverse relation, since for her “power corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert,” so someone “in power” by definition harnesses (“consensually” as it were) the strength of this group action. In the movie Miller’s Crossing Tom (Gabriel Byrne) says to Leo (Albert Finney) “you run this town because people think you run it; when they stop thinking it, you stop running it.” For Arendt, the conduit of any show of strength in response to a loss of power is inevitably violence of some kind. In the most fundamental Arendtian terms, violence is what individuals, interest groups and governments turn to when they can no longer derive enough strength through power.

Perhaps the most primordial violent impulse among humans is that of revenge. In communities where justice is (still) a moral/religious category unconnected to the polis, personal or familial revenge is what comes ready-to-hand. The problem, as Rene Girard points out in Violence and the Sacred, is that “Vengeance is an interminable, infinitely repetitive process,” one which “every time it turns up in some part of the community..threatens to involve the whole social body.” In such so-called “primitive” communities, ritual sacrifice, according to Girard, is what inevitably developed as a means of deflecting such “self-replicating” violence away from from the community and on to outside human (or animal) scapegoats. The great literary critic Tony Tanner, making clever use of Girard’s ideas, observes that Western tragedy begins with Orestes pausing momentarily before taking murderous vengeance on his own mother Clytemnestra who had killed his father Agamemnon for sacrificing his sister Iphigenia. The pause is very brief:

Orestes: What shall I do, Plyades? Be shamed to kill my mother?

Plyades: What becomes thereafter of the oracles declared by Loxias at Pytho? What of sworn oaths? Count all men hateful to you rather than the gods.

Orestes: I judge that you win. Your advice is good.

And so he kills her, and is later put on trial by the gods. Western tragedy recommences with Hamlet, in which, as Tanner inscribes in his preface, this pause of revenge has become the whole play. Ever since, our theater, and more lately cinema, has seen personal vengeance in terms of a conflict between justice as a moral category and justice as a political category, as a function of the state.

~~~~Musick Hund

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

An Honored Invite

For the second time this blog has been invited to join the conversation in a college course.  Sometime guest blogger Musick Hund teaches as writing course in the Georgia University system.  The course this time around, as with last time, is entitled "Violence As A Concept."  So this Friday we will be getting all serious on everyone's ass and Musick Hund will be on hand to guest blog.  I am honored as hell to be asked!!