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Django!

December 11, 2012 1 comment

[WARNING: SOME (minor) SPOILERS follow]

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Something interesting happens in Quentin Tarantino’s movies when circumstances – be they those of 1850s slavery in the United States of America or those of Nazi extermination of Jews in 1940s Europe – produce the Good and the Bad. The interesting thing is that, eventually, both the Good and the Bad become Ugly.

Now, this is not to say that the division between the two collapses entirely so that we are left with some kind of nebulous moral relativism that prevents us from differentiating the good from the bad. No, this is not the case at all. But both the good (which become the really Good) and the bad (which become the really Bad) start to evoke a certain kind of sadness brought on by the ugliness of history and the participation of men and women in this history. And they do so while, at the very same time, they allow the audience to genuinely celebrate the asskicking that the Good bestow upon the Bad. It is truly a beautiful (and grotesque) thing.

In a recent interview, Tarantino has stated that Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds “bespeak a trilogy.” “As different as they are,” Tarantino noted, “there is a companion piece quality. There might very well be a third one. I just don’t know what it is yet” (http://www.totalfilm.com/news/quentin-tarantino-hints-at-inglourious-basterds-django-unchained-trilogy).

Like that of the Basterds, the plot of Django Unchained, Tarantino’s latest flick, is relatively straightforward. Set in 1858, approximately two years before the start of the Civil War in the Southern United States – Texas and Mississippi – the story follows Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave given his freedom by the German bounty hunter, Dr. King Shultz (Christoph Waltz), in exchange for help in tracking down and killing the odious Brittle Brothers. As Django joins Shultz in the bounty business – which is explicitly compared to slavery by Shultz himself – Django’s motives for vengeance move from personal to impersonal/financial and back to personal.

In his attempt to rescue his wife, Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington), Django, with the help of Schulz, becomes the spirit of vengeance and one of the quickest draws in the South. By the end of the flick, however, as he triumphs in the aura of Tarantino badass glory, Django also becomes something else. We cheer for him and for his actions; we cheer for his destruction of the truly Bad Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). But we are also saddened. The fact that in a scene before he finishes off the villains, Django’s face is covered with white dust, that his teeth strangely start to resemble Candie’s, and that he rides off into the night with his wife wearing Candie’s clothes, (ought to) trouble the pleasure we get from seeing the Good triumph.

As do the Basterds – particularly Brad Pitt and Eli Roth’s characters in Tarantino’s 2009 flick – Django becomes what Joseph Natoli has called a “Barbarian of the Good” (http://sensesofcinema.com/2009/52/the-deep-morals-of-inglourious-basterds).  This is how Natoli describes this phenomenon: “[E]verything is morally permitted – stupidity, ignorance, savagery … – because goodness can never commit an evil in its battle with evil. You can take this attitude right up to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s and Vice President Dick Cheney’s advocacy of torture at Guantanamo: we’re the good guys; we can’t do anything wrong. If we have reasoned our way to this view, then perhaps we’ve reasoned as Colonel Landa and the SS officer reason.”

Colonel Hans Landa (Basterds) and Dr. King Schultz, both played by Christoph Waltz, are here an instructive example. Waltz’s approach to both characters seems to have been the same, to a degree. Both Landa and Schultz are, again in the words of Natoli, “as ingratiating Devil[s] as Walter Huston’s Nick Bael was in The Devil and Daniel Webster, … more appealing, more human than Conrad Veidt as Colonel Strasser in Casablanca, … less odious than Ralph Fiennes as the Nazi Commandant in Schindler’s List.” While Shultz displays a level of sympathy Landa never does, there is a strong sense that Landa is what Shultz would have been had he been born 80 or so years later. Yet, while Landa is clearly Bad, Shultz is equally clearly Good, despite the fact that he is a cold-hearted bounty hunter who instructs Django how to calmly kill a man, from a distance, right in front of this man’s son. Both Landa and Shultz are, undoubtedly, also Ugly.

Again, my point is not to argue that Tarantino’s latest movies completely destroy the difference between the forces of Good and the forces of Bad. Rather, they dare us to laugh and cheer at (and in) a world in which there is very little to cheer for and even less to laugh at.  There was in the Basterds, and there is in Django, a feeling that the audience needs to be much more thoughtful before they allow themselves to laugh. For it is in a kind of instinctive, thoughtless laughter that the audience itself can – but need not – become extremely Ugly.

Categories: Fact

Such a Dirty Old Man

June 5, 2012 Leave a comment

mean mister mustard sleeps in the park
shaves in the dark trying to save paper
sleeps in a hole in the road
saving up to buy some clothes
keeps a ten-bob note up his nose
such a mean old man
such a mean old man

Everything I write is a lie. But, these days, I write little as there are other lies I’ve been living.

Such a mean old man, she says. A liar, a cheat, a thief, a plagiarist. A man.

It seems that everything I see – in life in life in life – these days tells me so. Such a dirty old man.

The nemesis lives and breathes and looks lovelier every day. She’s put on a pound or two and I secretly enjoy it while I take every opportunity to tell her she’s getting fatter, using the truth to cover up the truth. She’s getting older. And fatter. A goddamned hippopotamus. When she straddles my body I can barely breathe. A goddamned hippopotamus.

Such a dirty old man.

I’ve been listening to the Beatles lately – a lot a lot a lot – and the truth of it is, I do not like them. Ringo, Paul, John, George: how dare they? From the past they mock me with their truths and their lies. “The eagle picks my eye, the worm he licks my bones”: nonsense. Worms have got no tongues. Have they?

Such a mean old man.

Yesterday, I awoke to the sounds of traffic and it calmed me down. Her body lay next to mine, breathing softly, her mouth open, her eyes closed. “How lucky I am,” I thought, “My own goddamned hippopotamus. A beautiful purple hippopotamus.”

I get up, make her coffee, breakfast, and then I wake her gently with a slap. She smiles and throws a pillow at me. Ridiculous: pillows don’t hurt.

“Everybody’s got something to hide,” she says, “except for me and my monkey.” Ridiculous. A monkey.

How lucky I am. My own goddamned hippopotamus. A beautiful purple hippopotamus.

Categories: Fact

Jack Layton (1950 – 2011)

August 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Categories: Fact

An Ode to Robert Bruce (Rob) Ford, Esquire, on the Occasion of Pride Week 2011

July 5, 2011 Leave a comment

I share my poor dwelling with a wicked old sprite;
A sprite whose spirit leans largely to right.
And on those droll days when good people unite,
The wicked old sprite stays out of their sight.

I think it was Nash, not the old one but new,
The one for whom e would quite simply not do,
I think it was he, from that York always New,
That said it best, that said it quite true:

In Toronto there lived a boy.
He wasn’t anybody’s joy.
Although his name was Jabez Dawes,
His character was full of flaws.

And although Jabez, with his gut so puh-lump
Kissed little babies when he noticed a slump,
He never was so quick to skedaddle
As when people of colours showed up with a paddle.

If that little fat sprite truly is Jabez Dawes,
Then Père Noël is my name, I’m a kitty with claws.
And when winter’s sun shines on that sprite that likes spin,
From behind that plump face an ogre’s will grin.

But fear not, good folk, ’tis no ogre we fear,
Look closer, smell careful, ’tis but stale reek of beer.
I sympathize fully, last year you were rash,
Four years will soon pass, then remember Og Nash:

From grimy feet to grimy locks,
Jabez became a Jack-in-the-box,
An ugly toy with springs unsprung,
Forever sticking out his tongue.
The neighbors heard his mournful squeal;
They searched for him, but not with zeal.
No trace was found of Jabez Dawes,
Which led to thunderous applause,
And people drank a loving cup
And went and hung their stockings up.

Categories: Fact

A New Hope

June 26, 2011 Leave a comment

The beginning’s always the same:

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armoured space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy…

It’s what comes after that changes.

The Nemesis and I have moved into a new place. She is still the same, I am still the same, but the setting is different. Which means that everything is different. I work when I can and she works. The relative worth of individual players has not changed. But the setting is different; which means that everything is.             Different.

The home is no longer a house: it is an apartment. There is no more an eternal grotto to hide in; the light of day seemingly constantly streams through our wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows. Unlike her plants, I do not thrive in such conditions. There is nowhere to hide — I am always visible.

“What connection can there be,” she says as she walks into our room, momentarily darkened by heavy curtains, her hands hidden behind her back, “What connection can there be between the place in Lincolnshire, the house in town, the Mercury in powder, and the whereabout of Jo the outlaw with the broom, who had that distant ray of light upon him when he swept the churchyard-step? What connection can there have been between many people in the innumerable histories of this world who from opposite sides of great gulfs have, nevertheless, been very curiously brought together?”

“I don’t know,” I reply. “Thackeray?”

“Close,” she says.

“Not Dickens?”

“Ah, sharp as always; on second try.”

“I knew I should have gone for the obvious.”

She sits and pulls a book from behind her back. “I spent the last ten minutes memorizing that paragraph.”

“But you hate memorizing,” I say.

“Indeed I do; except when I want to prove something.” She pauses, looking at me, teasing. “But as of now, I shall do no such thing. From now on, I simply read:

Jo sweeps his crossing all day long, unconscious of the link, if any link there be. He sums up his mental condition when asked a question by replying that he “don’t know nothink.” He knows that it’s hard to keep the mud off the crossing in dirty weather, and harder still to live by doing it. Nobody taught him even that much; he found it out.

Jo lives—that is to say, Jo has not yet died—in a ruinous place known to the like of him by the name of Tom-all-Alone’s. It is a black, dilapidated street, avoided by all decent people, where the crazy houses were seized upon, when their decay was far advanced, by some bold vagrants who after establishing their own possession took to letting them out in lodgings. Now, these tumbling tenements contain, by night, a swarm of misery. As on the ruined human wretch vermin parasites appear, so these ruined shelters have bred a crowd of foul existence that crawls in and out of gaps in walls and boards; and coils itself to sleep, in maggot numbers, where the rain drips in; and comes and goes, fetching and carrying fever and sowing more evil in its every footprint than Lord Coodle, and Sir Thomas Doodle, and the Duke of Foodle, and all the fine gentlemen in office, down to Zoodle, shall set right in five hundred years—though born expressly to do it.”

“Oh, that Dickens,” I say. “Master of the eternal: Lord of the unchanging: Hero of the universal.”

She scoffs — and I am slightly injured.

There’s no tennis today, so we’ll find very little to bond over.

Categories: Fact

There IS a Heppy Lend Fur, Fur Awa-a-ay!

October 7, 2009 1 comment

krazy katHarper’s still in the commanding chair.

McGuinty’s a bum.

e-Health.

Obama’s proving useless.

The Senate.

Wall Street.

The bailout.

I live in a world with no rooms.

Am I Krazy? And the world? Ignatz? And who are you?

Categories: Fact

Qābīl

August 10, 2009 1 comment

Gustave Dore - Cain Slays Abel [c. 1865]I wake up early in the morning, on one particular Monday, and the thoughts in my head race the moment my eyes open.

I am not my brother’s keeper.

Nemesis, in her own form, approached me yesterday and offered me life everlasting through a sexual communion with a dove.  “God dwells here,” she said, and smirked.  “God dwells here.”  And her fingers slid into her panties.

I was afraid.

She licked my ear lobe and hissed, “Don’t you want life everlasting?  Don’t you want to spend eternity with me?”

And I shivered.  With delight.  Heavenly delight.

“Take it,” she said as she offered the object in her hand to me.  “We both know you want it.  And then, life everlasting.  In my presence.”

She was beautiful.  She is beautiful.  I so want to live forever.

But I am not my brother’s keeper.

On the palm of her hand stands my brother.  He is meek, merciful, and pure of heart.  He is beautiful.  He is smiling at me.  The Nemesis is smiling at me.  They are both angels.  I, however, am a creature of muck.  Of dirt and dung.

“He needs your protection.  I need your protection,” she says.

And at that moment I am suspicious.  She never needs protection.  Is she fucking with me?

“Be good to your brother,” she says.  “Be good to me.”

I consider my options.

And then, in a predictable fashion, I reach out for my brother, and I take him in my hand.  I grasp his head between my thumb and index finger and I squeeze, lightly at first, and then slowly increasing the pressure until – pop – his head ruptures like a grape and whatever was inside it forms a sticky substance on my fingers and my face.  I smile.

“How fucking predictable,” she smiles restraining her anger.

And then she punches me, breaking my nose, and leaving me on the floor, bleeding.  She walks away silently, without a word.

She is beautiful.  She was beautiful.

I wake up early in the morning, on one particular Monday, and the thoughts in my head race the moment my eyes open.  I am not my brother’s keeper.  My nose aches.  “Fuck,” I think, “That’s gonna leave a mark.”

Categories: Fact