Thursday, August 30, 2012

James Bond 007: From Russia, With Love - Dir. Terence Young

The Best Bond?
by Jay Maronde

James Bond wasn’t born--he’s a fictional character.  In fact, as I’ve already discussed in previous articles, he didn’t even originally appear in films, he was a character of literature, and From Russia With Love wasn’t even his first appearance; but for many people, From Russia, With Love defines the epitome of Bond. FRWL is consistently rated by both professional and amateur interweb critics as the “Best Bond” or “Highest Rated Bond” or “The ‘classic’ Bond” for numerous reasons: not necessarily for the plot (convoluted), nor the actors (because one of the female leads was (hopefully) cast for her atrocious hideousness), but instead for its classic Bond conventions (which weren’t the classic Bond ‘things’ when the movie was released, merely new directions the burgeoning franchise had chosen to take).  However, the rosy goggled 20/20 vision of hindsight has since made those producers in 1963 seem like geniuses with some sort of super-secret Q branch future vision machine.
            Speaking of Q branch: let us start right there. From Russia With Love was the first movie to have real James Bond Gadgets, and the first appearance of one Desmond Llewelyn (who still holds the record for most appearances in Bond Films, appearing in every film until Bond19 (The World is Not Enough)).  Credited only as Boothroyd, (in later films referred to only as Q), Bond and "Q" meet early in the film for their equipment briefing, a scene which becomes standard in all Bond films up through Bond20 (Die Another Day) and Q presents Bond with a rather interesting piece of luggage. While the briefcase is certainly no x-ray specs or invisible Aston Martin it definitely is a very cool package that not only packs quite the wallop, but also foreshadows many of Bond’s exciting exploits ahead.  The movie also contains a scene with a helicopter; making this the first Bond Film to include a helicopter, even though every Bond movie since has included at least one scene with a helicopter, and I believe this particular scene inspired one Steven Spielberg in his filming of Sean Connery disabling the plane in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.
              Bond’s Quartermaster briefing isn’t the only convention defined and typified by this film--so much of “classic” Bond franchise originates with this film. First-off we notice that there is now a scene before the opening credits. This opening pre-credits scene at the time was a new concept, and while now we almost take this idea for granted, it was groundbreaking at the time. Further, From Russia With Love was the first Bond film to have a theme song made just for the film. Again it seems obvious to us now that a movie needs a theme song, but in 1963 these producers were breaking new ground. Also while this seems like a rather obvious idea now, FRWL was one of the first films ever to include a stylized opening credits sequence.
              Another huge Bond convention that started with From Russia With Love was Bond's proclivity to jet-set to numerous exotic locales during the course of his mission (or the course of the film).  Bond begins the movie in Britain, as almost always, but during the course of the film, jaunts first to Istanbul, where the Cold War isn’t so cold, and the work of a spy involves an amazing and gorgeous scene of canoeing through the underground reservoir of the Emperor Constantine, followed by peering into the Russian Consulate with a re-purposed Submarine Periscope. After a brief stay at a Gypsy camp, (with a tremendous girl fight/ belly dancing / gun battle scene that could easily be a defining moment in any movie) Bond really gets to business. He seduces / manipulates / cavorts with a Russian file clerk, and later escapes from Turkey with her, and a stolen Russian Lektor Decoding machine, via the Orient Express. Eluding the Russians to make it on to the train, and then cleverly dealing with a SPECTRE agent who poses as an ally but exposes his true criminal nature by “ordering red wine with Fish,” Bond escapes with the girl from the train, and then from the helicopter, and then from a regatta of enemy boats, all while making his way towards safe territory in Venice. After watching this film one definitely gets the feeling like they have gone on a mini European vacation, a sensation that audiences have always loved, and as such the producers have always kept Agent 007 moving through as many exotic locations in the films as possible.
                Perhaps the most compelling plot facet established by FRWL is the fictional James Bond’s place in the very non-fictional Cold War. It has become so ingrained in our collective unconscious that Bond has always been a crusader for “our side” that without serious thought the average viewer could easily assume that the “bad guys” are the Commies in almost any or all of the early Bond films. In reality, (or Bond’s reality anyways) the “bad guy” is almost always SPECTRE. However at the time when the film was made you have to look at history to grasp the full gravity of what the film meant to the free world. The year was 1963, Dr. No had been a smashing success, and the producers had been green-lighted to begin work on the sophomore film in an extremely popular franchise. JFK was in office and he had been a huge fan of the first film, so when the producers began to debate which novel they should bring to life next for the silver screen, the fact the President’s favorite Bond novel was From Russia With Love, the decision became very easy. Tragically, From Russia With Love would be the last film that JFK screened in the White House theatre before leaving for Dallas. 
                From Russia With Love is without a doubt an outstanding Bond Classic, with so many memorable scenes one could easily dub it the “Citizen Kane” of the James Bond franchise. Director Terence Young easily outdoes his original film. Daniela Bianchi while not the most gorgeous in the long litany of Bond Girls (certainly no comparison to Ursula Andress) portrays an extremely believable Tatiana as the lead female and Sean Connery seems to grow into his Bond tuxedo almost perfectly. In the very last moments of the film, the final James Bond convention which we have all grown to know and love, is introduced, and so much like this series of reviews: “James Bond will return in Goldfinger.”

Monday, August 20, 2012

Big Sur - Jack Kerouac

We all go a little mad sometimes.

That line is from Psycho, but Kerouac might as well have written it.

Kerouac gets a bad rap, I think.  Most people go no further than On the Road, or The Dharma Bums if you are really lucky.  Almost no one can talk about Desolation Angels, The Subterraneans, or Big Sur (not to mention And the Hippos Were Boiled in their Tanks..).

In terms of ranking, I would put Big Sur just beneath Desolation Angels (slightly) as my favorite.  Desolation Angels is much longer, a real "adventure" novel.  Big Sur is a pretty compact little book, but does not appear as well-edited as The Dharma Bums.

The plot can be described as follows: Jack Duluoz stays at Lawrence Monsanto's cabin alone in Big Sur and does not drink, decides he's bored, goes back to San Francisco to get people to go with him to Big Sur to drink, gets sick and tired of everyone and thinks about not drinking, goes back to San Francisco and drinks and decides he likes everyone again, then goes back to Big Sur with them and drinks and has a total breakdown.

That may sound facile, but Big Sur is quite excellent.

Much of this book is devoted to describing the psychological conditions giving way to addiction and insanity.   And it is on these topics that Kerouac shines:

"I can hear myself again whining 'Why does God torture me?'--But anybody who's never had delirium tremens even in their early stages may not understand that it's not so much a physical pain but a mental anguish indescribable to those ignorant people who dont drink and accuse drinkers of irresponsibility--The mental anguish is so intense that you feel you have betrayed your very birth, the efforts nay the birth pangs of your mother when she bore you and delivered you to the world, you've betrayed every effort your father ever made to feed you and raise you and make you strong and my God even educate you for 'life,' you feel a guilt so deep you identify yourself with the devil and God seems far away abandoning you to your sick silliness--You feel sick in the greatest sense of the word, breathing without believing in it, sicksicksick, your soul groans, you look at your helpless hands as tho they were on fire and you cant move to help, you look at the world with dead eyes, there's on your face an expression of incalculable repining like a constipated angel on a cloud--In fact it's actually a cancerous look you throw on the world, through browngray wool fuds over your eyes--Your tongue is white and disgusting, your teeth are stained, your hair seems to have dried out overnight, there are huge mucks in the corners of your eyes, greases on your nose, froth at the sides of your mouth: in short that very disgusting and wellknown hideousness everybody knows who's walked past a city street drunk in the Boweries of the world---"(95-96)

And, as in Desolation Angels, there is some of the world-weariness that Kerouac felt upon being crowned "the King of the Beats":

"Because after all the poor kid actually believes that there's something noble and idealistic and kind about all this beat stuff, and I'm supposed to be the King of the Beatniks according to the newspapers, so but at the same time I'm sick and tired of all the endless enthusiasms of new young kids trying to know me and pour out all their lives into me so that I'll jump up and down and say yes yes that's right, which I can't do anymore--"(94)

Kerouac was about 38 or 39 during the events taking place in this book and he would be dead seven years after its publication.  His portrayals of himself as an "old man" therefore, may be somewhat accurate for the truly wild of the partiers amongst us.  Kerouac and F. Scott Fitzgerald (and to a lesser extent Hemingway) therefore represent the "second tier" of the so-called 27 Club.  While Fitzgerald is in the 44 Club and Kerouac is in the 47 Club, neither was apparently addicted to seriously hard drugs (I will leave Burroughs--84 Club--out of this...) but could not overcome their passion for drink.  While they went on to contribute several masterpieces to the American literary canon, they did so at their own expense, or perhaps out of the fear that they would not write anything better than their first books.

Kerouac and Fitzgerald also share the quality of writing "thinly-veiled autobiographies," though Fitzgerald did much more to add veils.  Kerouac admits that his entire oeuvre is one story--the story of his life--and an attempt to imitate Marcel Proust.  This is not the time for a discussion on the merits of burning the candle at both ends, or whatever phrase you like, but it is an interesting side-note.

Perhaps notable if one wants a very-detailed understanding of Kerouac's oeuvre/life is the character of Cody (previously known as Dean Moriarty in On the Road and Neal Cassady in real life) who strongly influences most of the action in this novel--or at least of its second half.  Cody is married to Evelyn, and Jack loves her.  They both believe they will be married in another life.  However, Cody also has a mistress named Billie.  He sets her up with Jack, and she eventually drives him insane at the end of the novel.  But there is this interesting story about marijuana prosecution when Cody makes his first appearance:

"Cody shakes my hand again--Havent seen him for several years because mainly he's just spent two years in San Quentin on a stupid charge of possession of marijuana--He was on his way to work on the railroad one night and was short on time and his driving license had already been revoked for speeding so he saw two bearded bluejeaned beatniks parked, asked them to trade a quick ride to work at the railroad station for two sticks of tea, they complied and arrested him--They were disguised policemen--For this great crime he spent two years in San Quentin in the same cell with a murderous gunman--His job was sweeping out the cotton mill room--I expect him to be all bitter and out of his head because of this but strangely and magnificently he's become quieter, more radiant, more patient, manly, more friendly even--" (55-56)

A key difference in this book is that now, Kerouac is rich.  Or at least semi-rich.  He has begun to receive proceeds from On the Road and characterizes himself as a celebrity disenchanted with what readers have interpreted him to be--a 26 or 27-year-old hitchhiking artist, in search of the next great adventure.  He is hardly this, and near the opening of the novel, he hitchhikes for what he says was the last time in his life.

But he lends $100 to Cody and this is enough for Cody to completely change his life around.  He reappears in what may be the most "exuberant" scene in the novel--at Monsanto's cabin in Big Sur:

"Suddenly, boom, the door of the cabin is flung open with a loud crash and a burst of sunlight illuminates the room and I see an Angel standing arm outstretched in the door!--It's Cody!  all dressed in his Sunday best in a suit!  beside him are ranged several graduating golden angels from Evelyn gold beautiful wife down to the most dazzling angel of them all little Timmy with the sun striking off his hair in beams!....."Happy birthday Jack!" yells Cody or some such ordinary crazy inane greeting "I've come to you with good news!  I've brought Evelyn and Emily and Gaby and Timmy because we're all so grateful and glad because everything has worked out absolutely dead perfect, or living perfect, boy, with that little old hunnerd dollars you gave me let me tell  you the fantastic story of what happened" (to him it was utterly fantastic)..." (106-107)

And then he gives him pot:

"You guessed it old buddy I have here the LAST, the absolutely LAST yet most perfect of all black-haired seeded packed tight superbomber joints in the world which you and I are now going to light up, 's'why I didnt want you to bring any of that wine right away, why boy we got time to drink wine and wine and dance" and here he is lighting up, says "Now dont walk too fast, it's time to stroll along like we used to do remember sometimes on our daysoff on the railroad, or walking across that Third and Townsend tar like you said and the time we watched the sun go down so perfect holy purple over that Mission cross--Yessir, slow and easy, looking at this gone valley" so we start to puff the pot but as usual it creates doubtful paranoias in both our minds and we actually sort of fall silent on the way to the car which is a beautiful grape color at that, a brand new shiney Jeepster with all the equipments...." (108-109)

From there, Jack is later introduced to Billie, and her son Elliott, which sets up the denouement of the novel.  He also meets Billie's friend Perry, who takes the "beat" attitude to its logical extreme, and causes Jack a moment of pause.  As a side note, there are also several meetings with generals in the U.S. Army which cause Jack some weird paranoia, but moving on:

"Strange--and Perry Yturbide that first day while Billie's at work and we've just called his mother now wants me to come with him to visit a general of the U.S. Army--"Why? and what's all these generals looking out of silent windows?" I say--but nothing surprises Perry--"We'll go there because I want you to dig the most beautiful girls we ever saw," in fact we take a cab--But the "beautiful girls" turn out to be 8 and 9 and 10 years old, daughters of the general or maybe even cousins or daughters of a nextdoor strange general, but the mother is there, there are also boys playing in a backroom, we have Elliott with us who Perry has carried on his shoulders all the way--I look at Perry and he says "I wanted you to see the most beautiful cans in town" and I realize he's dangerously insane--In fact he then says "See this perfect beauty?" a ponytailed 10 year old daughter of the general (who aint home yet) "I'm going to kidnap her right now" and he takes her by the hand and they go out on the street for an hour while I sit there over drinks talking to the mother--There's some vast conspiracy to make me go mad anyway--" (133)

This takes place in San Francisco, but later they will go to Big Sur, and Jack will experience his breakdown.

It is perhaps worth noting at this point my personal connection to this story.  While I am no stranger to incredible statements that may in fact be erroneous, perhaps the most incredible statement I have made of late is that I am, in fact, Kerouac's reincarnation.  Now I understand that all people are tied by a common humanity, and certainly some religious upbringings may cause others to experience certain sensations more closely than others--but Kerouac's description of madness in Big Sur is personally significant to me for two reasons: #1: In July 2012, I went to Big Sur and experienced a similar breakdown of sorts.  #2: In March of 2003 I experienced the physical, mental, and psychological sensations that Kerouac reports in this book (which I wrote about in my first significant written work "Autointoxication").  Kerouac would often say in bars, "I'm the greatest writer of the 20th century."  That may be up for debate, but it is not so far from the truth.  For me to say "I'm the greatest writer of the 21st century" certainly comes off as false, since I have not been published--but keep in mind that On the Road was published in 1958, when Kerouac was 35, and keep in mind that we share the same aesthetic sensibilities (to what degree he has influenced me I cannot be sure but I must say that before I ever read him --On the Road when I was 18--I did not have such a different artistic vision as I have today, which is not far from Kerouac's, or Proust's.

With that out of the way:

"I realize I may never come out of this and my mother is waiting for me at home praying for me because she must know what's happening tonight, I cry out to her to pray and help me--I remember my cat for the first time in three hours and let out a yell that scared Billie--"All right Jack?"--"Give me a little time"--But now she's started to sleep, poor girl is exhausted, I realize she's going to abandon me to my fate anyway and I cant help thinking she and Dave and Romana are all secretly awake waiting for me to die--"For what reason?" I'm thinking "this secret poisoning society, I know, it's because I'm a Catholic, it's a big anti-Catholic scheme, it's Communists destroying everybody, systematic individuals are poisoned till finally they'll have everybody, this madness changes you completely and in the morning you no longer have the same mind--the drug is invented by Airapatianz, it's the brainwash drug, I always thought that Romana was a Communist being a Rumanian, and as for Billie that gang of hers is strange, and Cody dont care, and Dave's all evil just like I always figured maybe" but soon my thoughts arent even as "rational" as that any more but become hours of raving--There are forces whispering in my ear in rapid long speeches advising and warning, suddenly other voices are shouting, the trouble is all the voices are longwinded and talking very fast like Cody at his fastest and like the creek so that I have to keep up with the meaning tho I wanta bat it out of my ears--I keep waving at my ears--I'm afraid to close my eyes for all the turmoiled universes I see tilting and expanding suddenly exploding suddenly clawing in to my center, faces, yelling mouths, long haired yellers, sudden evil confidences, sudden rat-tat-tats of cerebral committees arguing about "Jack" and talking about him as if he wasnt there--Aimless moments when I'm waiting for more voices and suddenly the wind explodes huge groans in the million treetop leaves that sounds like the moon gone mad--And the moon rising higher, brighter, shining down in my eyes like a streetlamp--The huddled shadowy sleeping figures over there so coy--So human and safe, I'm crying "I'm not human any more and I'll never be safe any more, Oh what I wouldnt give to be home on a Sunday afternoon yawning because I'm bored, Oh for that again, it'll never come back again--Ma was right, it was all bound to drive me mad, now it's done--What'll I say to her?--She'll be terrified and go mad herself--Oh ti Tykey, aide mue--me who's just eaten fish have no right to ask for brother Tyke again--"--An argot of sudden screamed reports rattles through my head in a language I never heard but understand immediately--For a moment I see blue Heaven and the Virgin's white veil but suddenly a great evil blur like an ink spot spreads over it, "The devil!--the devil's come after me tonight! tonight is the night!  that's what!"--But angels are laughing and having a big barn dance in the rocks of the sea, nobody cares any more--Suddenly as clear as anything I ever saw in my life, I see the Cross."  (177-178)

This passage represents the closest I have seen Kerouac come to describing a delusional episode with perfect accuracy.  Indeed I am hard-pressed to think of any other writer who has summed up those horrifying moments when one is alone in their mind and confused and cannot summon a rational thought but is instead reduced to broad, dualistic sensations of good and evil, heaven and hell, God and the Devil, blue and red, or white and black.

While this review is pretty much complete, a passage or two on gayness is always appropriate, particularly since my visit to Big Sur hinged upon whether I would hike to the hot springs or not (the same ones I cannot be sure):

"The boys reassure me the hot springs bath will do me good (they see I'm gloomy now hungover for good) but when we arrive my heart sinks again as McLear points out to sea from the balcony of the outdoor pools: "Look out there floating in the sea weeds, a dead otter!"--And sure enough it is a dead otter I guess, a big brown pale lump floating up and down mournfully with the swells and ghastly weeds, my otter, my dear otter I'd written poems about--"Why did he die?" I ask myself in despair--"Why do they do that?"--"What's the sense of all this?"--...--The hot water pools are steaming, Fagan and Monsanto and the others are all sitting peacefully up to their necks, they're all naked, but there's a gang of fairies also there naked all standing around various bath house postures that make me hesitate to take my clothes off just on general principles--In fact Cody doesnt even bother to do anything but lie down with this clothes on in the sun, on the balcony table, and just smoke--But I borrow McLear's yellow bathing suit and get in--"What ya wearing a bathingsuit in a hot springs pool for boy?" says Fagan chuckling--With horror I realize there's spermatazoa floating in the hot water--I look and I see the other men (the fairies) all taking good long looks at Ron Baker who stands there facing the sea with his arse for all to behold, not to mention McLear and Dave Wain too--But it's very typical of me and Cody that we won't undress in this situation (we were both raised Catholics?)--Supposedly the big sex heroes of our generation, in fact--You might think--But the combination of the strange silent watching fairy-men, and the dead otter out there, and the spermatazoa in the pools makes me sick....." (91-92).

Shortly after that is a mention of Nepenthe, which is where I rushed to catch a bus off of Big Sur to Monterey, and another mention of generals because there was something "sinister" about the fact that he had never met any general in his life and now he had met two of them (the third would be in a passage quoted above).  Henry Miller is also mentioned two or three times in the novel, apparently lurking somewhere around Big Sur, but unfortunately he does not make an appearance.  I went to Big Sur and attended a wedding at the Henry Miller Memorial Library and Museum, so that would have been the icing on the cake for me.

Later everyone leaves and he has a dream:

"Then I turn my rumbling attention to a couple of unknown Fin du Siecle poets called Theo Marzials and Henry Harland--I take a nap after supper and dream of the U.S. Navy, a ship anchored near a war scene, at an island, but everything is drowsy as two sailors go up the trail with fishing-poles and a dog between them to go make love quietly in the hills: the captain and everybody know they're queer and rather than being infuriated however they're all drowsily enchanted by such gentle love: you see a sailor peeking after them with binoculars from the poop: there's supposed to be a war but nothing happens, just laundry...." (102)

Perhaps you can tell from these passages that Kerouac paid scant attention to punctuation--there are probably more em-dashes in the novel than periods, and apostrophes in certain contractions are omitted.  This just shows Kerouac's increasing comfort in his own prose-style, and I do not think the style ever hinders the readability of the text.  In fact I think it makes it more readable, and perhaps this is why I like it better than On the Road.

But to be fair, I have not read On the Road in many years now (6 maybe?) and perhaps it is time for another reading and a new perspective on it.

This marks the end of Flying Houses book reviews for a while now--while I may attempt to review Americana by Don DeLillo, classes have started again today, and sadly (and for the last year) Flying Houses will experience significant hiatuses, and only include Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress columns, or other writings not deemed publishable by those outlets to which I submit.

Bottom line: Read Kerouac.  And don't just stop at On the Road--even if you don't like it all that much.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises - Dir. Christopher Nolan

The last time I reviewed a Batman movie on Flying Houses was shortly after its birth.  See  As noted in the previous post on the recent Batman Massacre, I saw that one on opening night.  And while it took me a while to see this one, it had not been spoiled for me.  Well, I will try not to spoil it, until the bottom...

The basic feeling about The Dark Knight Rises is that it is a very good film, but it is not as good as The Dark Knight since Heath Ledger is not in it.  Now, I will fully admit that Heath Ledger is probably the main reason that last film was so amazing, but Batman Begins was a better Batman movie than most, and while this film is somewhat similar to Batman Begins, it certainly surpasses it.  In my book, this is the third best Batman movie made after The Dark Knight and Batman (1988).

First, it is worth noting that this is Christian Bale's best performance as Batman.  True, he has had many better performances (American Psycho, Harsh Times, Rescue Dawn, The Machinist, The Fighter...) and may be considered one of the best actors in his prime--but that Batman voice!  Nobody will ever stop making fun of it.  I do believe it is toned down to an extent in this film.

As Bruce Wayne, however, he is excellent, and has truly grown into the role.  He is a reclusive, cantankerous, graying, hobbled, broken-down man at the beginning of the film, and is quite funny.  He also delivers his only funny line as Batman in this movie (a scene with Catwoman, who disappears promptly, and his reaction, "Now I know how that feels.").

Anne Hathaway I had great misgivings about, but she is not all that bad in this film.  However, she cannot reach the catharsis and insanity that Michelle Pfeiffer brought to the role in Batman Returns.  Perhaps this is because she is denied an origin story (as was Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight).  Nobody knows why Catwoman does what she does, but she is portrayed as a "cat thief" living in "Old Town" (a vague reference to Chicago, though this film appears shot primarily in New York City and Pittsburgh, from what I understand).  She is portrayed as something of a "Robin Hood" but no information is given about her upbringing or what led her to her life of crime.  She is NOT a sympathetic character, which is why I did not mind hating Anne Hathaway (except for the end, ugh.).

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is serviceable as a cop that may or may not be Robin in disguise.  He has done better work in the past, but he plays the blockbuster action star as well as most are able.  While he is not annoying, per se, there is one questionable scene--HERE IS WHERE THE SPOILERS BEGIN!!!!!!

Why does he say to Commissioner Gordon, "Your hands seem pretty filthy to me!"  for not telling the truth about Harvey Dent's death?  And then two seconds later go on to being BFF with Commissioner Gordon?  (By the way, Gary Oldman gives his best performance, by far, in this trilogy).

Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are excellent as always--but I felt that Michael Caine in particular also gave his best performance in the trilogy, and I would go so far as to say he deserves an Oscar nomination for this film.  Nobody brought me closer to tears than him.  I always love Michael Caine (See Hannah and Her Sisters, etc.) but when he turns on that emotional side, it is hard not to lose it.

Of course, there is Bane.  Now, Bane is not as good as the Joker, in terms of being a horrifying villain--but he comes pretty darn close.  He has a great voice.  He sounds like Darth Vader.  The opening scene with the airplane is one of the most awesome scenes I have ever seen in any film, period!  And I love how he is huge, and mysterious--but smart!  He is one of the few villains to outsmart Batman.  (The Penguin outsmarts Batman in Batman Returns when he blows up the Batmobile).  Tom Hardy will probably be passed over for an Oscar nomination, but I do believe one is not totally out of the question for him.

By the way, I think Whitney Houston will win for Best Supporting Actress.  Just a guess.

And as The Dark Knight was denied a nomination for Best Film, I hope The Dark Knight Rises makes that cut.  These are both oddly similar films (that may be what seems to make it "boring" for some people), but they are both every bit as expertly crafted as the other.  You do not have Heath in this one, but you have everything else, and more.

The only problem I have is with the editing.  (Why I would give the film 3 1/2 instead of 4 stars).  Like, the cops are trapped in the sewers for 3 months?  What?  Or, there's 28 days until the bomb goes off, then 12 hours?  And a day hasn't seemed to pass in either instance?  These seem like easy fixes to make, so my assumption is that this was supposed to be a much longer film that got edited down to 160 minutes.  If you can overlook a couple of these relatively minor "editing mistakes," I think you will find it to be a very fine film.  And worth seeing on a big screen, if only for the first scene.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Special Comment: Batman in Aurora

While this was intended as Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress #14, my co-editors at BLS Advocate did not feel that it was appropriate for the site. They did not know where I was headed with this, and they felt that some of it might be offensive due to the nature of the shootings. This is totally understandable as nobody wants to touch this topic unless they accept "one-dimensional thinking" as an appropriate analytic process. Also, I fully admit this article jumps from idea to idea with little apparent "connection," but believe that within the totality of the piece, a meaning arises. While it is upsetting that BLS Advocate is not interested in the piece (for I believe it is one of the best I have ever written), and my audience will therefore be smaller, I am glad I do not need to edit out all of the seemingly irrelevant details. For BLS Advocate purposes, whatever I write next will be NIED #14, and this will remain simply a "Special Comment":

Batman in Aurora
by Christopher J. Knorps
On July 20, 2008, I went to see The Dark Knight at the movie theater at CityWalk at Universal Studios Hollywood with my two friends Mike and Molly.

On July 21, 2012, I called my friend Emily. I told her that, while Mike and Molly’s wedding was surely going to be a beautiful occasion, I was a tad upset that I would have to miss seeing The Dark Knight Rises during its opening weekend, given that Mike, Molly and I had done it four years previous. Emily responded that I should be happy that I hadn’t gone to a midnight screening in Aurora, Colorado, as a massacre had taken place there the previous night.

This was the first news I heard of it, and the last for a few days. The wedding took place in Big Sur, CA, and the majority of its attendees did not have cell phone reception or internet access. When I got back to Chicago and put the final touches on my ACA Analysis, I saw that far more releases had been posted on the website in regards to this massacre than in regards to the passage of the ACA. Clearly this is no small matter.

For those of you that do not already know, I am filming a shot-by-shot remake of the 1989 Tim Burton version of Batman, which will be titled Batman in Brooklyn. While I do not care to get into the particulars of my inspiration here, I will note that Charles Hynes has tentatively agreed to play himself (in the analogous role of D.A. Harvey Dent) and we will be needing student volunteers to play extras in one or two of his scenes, so please stay tuned.

Only July 27, 2012, my friend Joe texted me. Joe has recently taken a job in Albany, NY and is leaving Astoria. His text read as follows:

“Jack, i know this is late, but i think this whole shooting Colorado thing just made what you are trying to create all that more incredibly prescient and important. I know i cant be around for your production. Can i shoot some b-roll or secondary stock footage for your movie....”

He went onto describe the cobblestone paths of Albany, but I have since deleted the texts. Regardless, many people doubt my ability to pull this off next year since it will be such an incredibly busy one, but this has become a personal mission. As soon as Hynes became involved, I could not let the project peter out. Now that a mass-murderer (whose name I will not even deign to learn) has taken the “corporate opportunity” provided by a multi-billion dollar franchise to immortalize himself with a heinous act, Batman has undoubtedly become the most notorious comic book superhero of all time. And another Batman remake must be filmed.

Batman’s moral compass is not at issue here, though it is a subject of frequent debate amongst his fans. Superman is essentially a government tool (and probably a Republican if one takes Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns as his “true story”) and Spiderman is a nerdy kid whose morality is rarely, if ever questioned. It is unlikely that this killer was a fan of Batman, but more likely a fan of the Joker (I have seen his hair). 

In The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger cemented his status in the pantheon of American cinema with an iconic performance of that role and led many to write-off Jack Nicholson’s virtuoso accomplishment (which also made him the highest paid actor of his time) as nothing more than a footnote. But Ledger’s performance was seriously dark, the type of thing to spur imitation (in contrast to Nicholson’s--which was much funnier, and more inimitable). He also made it seem “cool” to be criminally insane. He supposedly took inspiration from Sid Vicious in the similar way that Johnny Depp took inspiration from Keith Richards for his role as Captain Jack Sparrow in The Pirates of the Caribbean films. Sid Vicious died young of a heroin overdose; Keith Richards lives on; Heath Ledger died young of an “accidental” overdose; Johnny Depp has been a Hollywood heart-throb for the past thirty years (and worked with Tim Burton more than any other actor); Jack Nicholson lounges in Los Angeles, and goes to far less Lakers games.

Kurt Cobain once said, “Punk rock is freedom.” Sid Vicious is a more popular figure in punk culture than Johnny Rotten because Johnny Rotten lives on, lounging in Los Angeles, collecting on the commodity he helped to create by branding himself an “anarchist.” Kurt Cobain also died young of a heroin overdose.  

It’s no secret that “living fast, dying young, and leaving a good-looking corpse” has been a mantra of the counterculture for the past sixty years, and while it is doubtful that this massacre will prevent similar future acts of self-destruction, it reinforces the “Columbine” issue, raised some thirteen years ago, raised on the campuses of Northern Illinois University and Virginia Tech more recently, and now in the national spotlight again.  

Do video games make people more violent?  Do films make people more violent?  Can we blame a film for the deaths of 14 innocent people?  Should Warner Brothers pay for their funerals?  Does Christian Bale have a duty to visit the injured victims in a hospital?  

No. In Video Software Dealer’s Ass’n v. Schwarzenegger, the 9th Circuit held that California did not have a compelling interest in preventing psychological or neurological harm to minors allegedly caused by violent video games and that even if it had a compelling interest in preventing psychological or neurological harm allegedly caused to minors by violent video games, the law was not narrowly tailored to further that interest.  John Hinckley tried to shoot President Reagan to impress Jodie Foster, but no one goes around trying to be like Patrick Bateman (because he is a “dork”). Warner Brothers doesn’t have to pay for the funerals, but the movie theater showing the film offered to do so. And Christian Bale is not required to visit the victims, but he did because he knew it would mean a lot to them, and it probably did. It was the right thing to do.

This murderer was clearly imitating the Joker (the Ledger version) but his regime is over. The murderer will not escape from prison, or a home for the criminally-insane in Colorado (one of which incidentally housed my younger brother’s assailant after he was found not guilty by reason of insanity, after being previously tried for attempted murder, and allowed to work in the school cafeteria). The Dark Knight Rises will still be an enormously successful film. Batman will remain as popular a figure as ever, and Batman in Brooklyn will be shot this Fall and Spring.

I will be playing the Joker in Batman in Brooklyn. And to me, there is a fine line between Batman and the Joker. Batman does not hate the Joker, and does not want to kill him, but feels that he must for the good of Gotham City. The Joker kills hundreds of innocent people.  Batman’s fans hate it when Batman kills, but he only kills when he has good reason to do so. Perhaps an analogy can be made to cops who shoot when presented with a threat to bodily injury, but Batman is never overzealous in his defensive measures. The fine line comes in where writers draw psychological parallels, namely, childhood trauma as a cause, and violence as an effect.  

The Joker, this murderer, the Columbine shooters, et. al. have been traumatized (as have many others who alternatively make positive contributions to society). The Joker has been disfigured by Batman. The Columbine shooters were bullied. And I don’t know about this murderer except I think he was getting his PHD in something and that he told his psychiatrist that he was planning some kind of “big event” (while graduate degrees may not be considered traumatizing, I think everyone at BLS knows earning one can drive you at least a little bit insane).

The interesting legal issue that arises to me is not gun control (which will be debated until the end of American history) but tort liability. Nobody had a duty to anyone in this case, except perhaps the psychiatrist. And while Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California held that a psychiatrist has a duty to report to the police if their patient expresses a desire to inflict harm upon a particular person, a potential civil action may arise in this case which may extend that policy to generalized groups of people. This is now certain to be a moral dilemma for psychiatrists: at what point does the patient cross the line that demands notification of the authorities?  

As the Joker states in The Killing Joke, an excellent story by Alan Moore, all it takes is one bad day to cross that line. Whatever it is that drives these people to violence may be one small remark (a stray gay joke, a slight regarding choice of clothing), or something more major (being forced to assist the Mob with an inside job after you’ve just learned of the deaths of your wife and unborn child), but it can be enough decimate hundreds of people’’s lives.  

Very few lessons, if any, can be learned from this tragedy. But I can think of one: we all need to be more sensitive to the needs of others. Hate breeds hate and if these people were happy, if they never had their “one bad day,” then they might have lived to help improve society, rather than harm individuals within it. It is entirely possible that The Dark Knight glorifies criminal violence and insanity, but the attraction towards that glorification is felt most strongly by the disaffected, the outcasts, the losers. This is not to say that any semblance of a glorification of violence should be purged from every film. The catharses that art can provide are every bit as valuable as the laughs derived from a stand-up comedy routine.

The solution is not to stop telling stories with morally ambiguous characters, but to ensure that people treat one another with love and respect. We are all on this bumpy ride together and we are all going to die anyways, and we shouldn’t be mocking people that have problems: we should be looking out for them and trying to improve the conditions for happiness across society as a whole. Once the most disaffected among us have the opportunity to attain happiness, senseless crimes will subside.  

            On August 5, 2012, I went to see The Dark Knight Rises in downtown Chicago at a 9:00 PM showing.  There was no security checkpoint, as I feared, nor any inappropriate jokes shouted near the opening.  There was only applause at the end.  A full review should be posted here in the next couple of days.

Christopher J. Knorps is a 3L at Brooklyn Law School.  He enjoys studying bankruptcy law.