discussing Bresson, Trumbull, others

Lately I've been commenting on posts at Alex on Film, and I appreciate the author's willingness to respond and have some back and forth:

Silent Running (1972)

A plug for Peter Schickele's music score, followed by some discussion of the moral complexity of '70s movies versus Top Gun-style blockbusters, and the recent odious trend of milking highly political events for their thrill value (Black Hawk Down, 13 Hours, Zero Dark Thirty, etc)

L'Argent (1983)

Robert Bresson's last film, about the corrosive effects of capital and one man's transition from hard-working husband and father to ax murderer.

Let the Right One In (2008)

The theory (considered elsewhere) that the film is a Moebius strip, with Oskar recruited to be Hakan's replacement.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

Peter Weir in decline, or Peter Weir being Peter Weir?

spot the screenshot

Alex on Film has been running a series of quizzes that test your powers of recall, observation, and movie knowledge.

See if you can name the films behind these screenshots, grouped into themes. My identification rate is extremely low but that didn't stop my pitching in on severed heads, tattoos, people looking in rear view car mirrors, views through crosshairs, and hangings.

Mostly I don't answer unless I know. I've skipped several quizzes either for lack of a contribution or because I thought I could safely miss it, e.g., eyeball mutilation (I have my limits).

tiny mix peaks

leland-pain-scale650

via

On the eve of the Twin Peaks reboot launch, Will Neibergall published a thoughtful essay at Tiny Mix Tapes about this particular TV-series-as-meme and how it's viewed by millennials (or at least the one writing the article): a failed show that resonates as a fictitious America even less palpable than it was to its original target audience. "One of the many reasons you love Twin Peaks," he writes, "is that its characters feel like people you know in real life, even though everything else in the show feels very unfamiliar. Twin Peaks makes you nostalgic for a time you don’t remember and a place that doesn’t exist."

From this reaction, Neibergall extrapolates how an even-further-removed generation will appreciate the show:

Maybe those viewer-subjects live in a huddled condition, in what philosopher Peter Sloterdijk calls “ecological stress communes,” pressed inland and away from cultural centers now remembered and revered like ancestors, jostled about by resource scarcity, plagued by ridiculous fantasies of aliens and sea people punctuated by actual disaster, war, and collapse. Or maybe these troubles loom on their horizon. In the face of these real nightmares, do they dream of ending up in a place like Twin Peaks, of grappling with its fake demons? Maybe future Twin Peaks viewers see in it a refreshingly provincial vision of encompassing crisis. A town where a yellow light still means “slow down” resonates abstractly with them. They are absorbed by the dark forces stirred out of the brown-gray American forest, by the murder of the cocaine-addicted homecoming queen and secret prostitute. Maybe, naive to the reality of their own circumstances, they feel like Dale Cooper chasing after those elusive and idealized spirits.

Neibergall wonders whether the 2017 version will be any good:

[W]ill Twin Peaks really walk and breathe more freely, as if awoken to a new life, and find something like that original sense of purpose? Or will it lose its way again in the smoke and mirrors of a shoddily constructed model of the public?

Twin Peaks 2017 pressed on with the occult narratives that seemed scatterbrained in 1991, creating actual mythology out of a hairball of modern paranoiac concepts. The atom bomb and its proximity to Roswell. Causality loops controlled by mysterious "lodges" and entities that seem to work at cross-purposes. A red-curtained room with chevron-patterned floor that serves as atrium to those nether-spaces. Human suffering in the form of a creamed corn-like substance that vomits inexplicably out of character's mouths. A parade of unexplained urban "types" having late night conversations in Twin Peaks' impossibly large bar. Audrey Horne's afterlife in a hellish marital scenario. Musical acts that all seemed to have moved to LA to be "Lynchian." A cornucopia of aging and/or mothballed actors, still strutting their stuff.

These elements mesh somehow into a poignant whole that binds the loose ends of the original series and redeems it retroactively. Whether its characters still feel "like people you know in real life" takes back stage in the Lynch/Frost uber-saga, or counter-saga, of supernatural interventions in mixed-up, SNAFU'd America.

Whether any of it will be of value to future eco-stress communards can't be guessed. Judging from current fan involvement on the Twin Peaks Wiki and other sites, the show speaks to the here-and-now. Mythologies begin with cults, and it's not unimaginable that this one might blossom, so that when our descendants ponder when it all went wrong they will know -- when the Woodsmen appeared above the gas station, of course. "This is the water and this is the well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes, and dark within." In Bob's name we pray.

It's "just a TV show," but also a kind of poetry of shared repressed nightmares. Including, but not limited to, Wally Brando.

wally650

i want all my garmonbozia (pain and sorrow)

Several trusted viewers recommended the new Twin Peaks. Yep (as in, they were right). Experience the radical "Episode 8" and necessarily anticlimactic "Episode 18."
Most bizarre moment: "Episode 7," when the Evolution of the Arm appears unexpectedly in the middle of a tense action scene and demands "Squeeze his hand off!"
You may have to look up garmonbozia -- fans will tell you about it.
Kudos to David Lynch for directing all 18 episodes. That is amazing.

anti-natalism (Ligotti vs HBO)

HBO's True Detective, Season 1, famously featured some dour anti-natalist philosophy spoken by detective Rustin Cohle, played by Matthew McConaughey:

I'd consider myself a realist, alright? But in philosophical terms I'm what's called a pessimist... I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware. Nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself - we are creatures that should not exist by natural law... We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, that accretion of sensory experience and feelings, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody's nobody... I think the honorable thing for our species to do is to deny our programming. Stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction - one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.

McConaughey's portrayal of Cohle as a humorless, self-pitying character makes the above lines sound even more bleak than they read.

Several commentators picked up on the connections of this spiel to horror author Thomas Ligotti's book The Conspiracy against the Human Race (in fact, it could be said that HBO put Ligotti "on the map").

What's missing is the sly humor of Ligotti's writing, a kind of eye-twinkle as he dishes out an escalating series of unsayable propositions. For example, this excerpt from Conspiracy:

Consciousness is an existential liability, as every pessimist agrees -- a blunder of blind nature, according to [Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel] Zapffe, that has taken humankind down a black hole of logic. To make it through this life, we must make believe that we are not what we are -- contradictory beings whose continuance only worsens our plight as mutants who embody the contorted logic of a paradox.* To correct this blunder, we should desist from procreating. What could be more judicious or more urgent, existentially speaking, than our self-administered oblivion? At the very least, we might give some regard to this theory of the blunder as a "thought-experiment." All civilizations become defunct. All species die out. There is even an expiration date on the universe itself. Human beings would certainly not be the first phenomenon to go belly up. But we could be the first to precipitate our own passing, abbreviating it before the bodies really started to stack up. Could we know to their most fine-grained details the lives of all who came before us, would we bless them for the care they took to keep the race blundering along? Could we exhume them alive, would we shake their bony, undead hands and promise to pass on the favor of living to future generations? Surely that is what they would want to hear, or at least that is what we want to think they would want to hear. And just as surely that is what we would want to hear from our descendents living in far posterity, strangers though they would be as they shook our bony, undead hands.

The darkly comic image of the bony undead handshake (twice repeated) makes the unsayable more hearable. True Detective writer Nic Pizzolatto softens the message by giving laugh lines to Cohle's cop partner, Marty Hart, played by Woody Harrelson. As Cohle expounds his grim philosophy in the front seat of their police car, Hart answers with "Hmm, that sounds God-fucking-awful, Rust" (IMDb) and "Let's make the car a place of silent reflection from now on." (IMDb)

Another example: here's Cohle talking about his own experience of fatherhood. The daughter he speaks of was killed by a hit and run driver while she was still a toddler:

Think of the hubris it must take to yank a soul out of nonexistence into this... meat, to force a life into this... thresher. That's...
So my daughter, she spared me the sin of being a father.

Bu-u-u-mmer. Again, this does no service to Ligotti, who has wit. Discussing the same undiscussable notion Cohle throws down, Ligotti notes, in Conspiracy:

Almost nobody declares that an ancestral curse contaminates us in utero and pollutes our existence. Doctors do not weep in the delivery room, or not often. They do not lower their heads and say, "The stopwatch has started."

As previously noted, The Conspiracy against the Human Race is a weirdly inspirational book. It is liberating to consider the idea that suffering, guilt, and egomaniac striving -- the "tragedy of human existence" -- began because at some stage in our evolution we acquired “a damning surplus of consciousness" and "life....overshot its target, blowing itself apart" (the latter phrases are Zapffe's). Unlike Cohle (and Pizzolatto), Ligotti readily acknowledges that his own theories may be a perverse symptom of this evolutionary mistake. By writing a book on anti-natalism, he is engaging in artistic sublimation, which is one of the means by which humans "smother consciousness" and its attendant paradoxes,* according to Zapffe. This sublimation may be useful to readers or it may just be another story we tell ourselves. From endnote 3 of Conspiracy:

Under the collective designation of “constructivists,” philosophers, sociologists, and other authorities working in a range of fields have variously deliberated on the fabricated nature of our lives. Examples: P. L. Berger and T. Luckman, The Social Construction of Reality, 1966; Paul Watzlawick, ed., Invented Reality: How Do We Know What We Believe We Know?, 1984; Ernst von Glasefeld, Radical Contructivism: A Way of Learning, 1996. For book-reading intellectuals, this idea is just one of many that fill their days. Its import, however, is not often shared with the masses. But sometimes it is. An instance in cinema where fabrication is hypothesized to be the cornerstone of our lives occurs at the end of Hero (1992), when the character referred to in the title, Bernard LePlant [played by Dustin Hoffman -TM], passes on some words of wisdom to his previously estranged son. “You remember where I said I was going to explain about life, buddy?” he says. “Well, the thing about life is, it gets weird. People are always talking to you about truth, everybody always knows what the truth is, like it was toilet paper or something and they got a supply in the closet. But what you learn as you get older is, there ain’t no truth. All there is, is bullshit. Pardon my vulgarity here. Layers of it. One layer of bullshit on top of another. And what you do in life, like when you get older, is -- you pick the layer of bullshit you prefer, and that’s your bullshit, so to speak. You got that?” Despite the cynicism of LePlant’s words, the object of his fatherly lesson is to create a bond between him and his son. (Hollywood is heavily invested in plotlines in which a broken family is “healed.”) This bond is reliant on the exposure of life as bullshit and is itself bullshit -- since one can have no basis for preferring one layer of bullshit over another without already being full of bullshit -- which makes LePlant’s case that “All there is, is bullshit” without his being aware of it, which is how bullshit works. This is not the message the moviegoer is meant to take away from the mass-audience philosophizing of Hero, but there it is anyway.

*The "paradox" (one of many) Ligotti refers to: "We know we are alive and know we will die. We also know we will suffer during our lives before suffering -- slowly or quickly -- as we draw near to death. This is the knowledge we “enjoy” as the most intelligent organisms to gush from the womb of nature. And being so, we feel shortchanged if there is nothing else for us than to survive, reproduce, and die. We want there to be more to it than that, or to think there is. This is the tragedy: Consciousness has forced us into the paradoxical position of striving to be unself-conscious of what we are -- hunks of spoiling flesh on disintegrating bones."