Wednesday, 12 December 2012

No Limits.

And here perhaps we get the negative side of the thousand plateaus of bliss and transport celebrated by the lovers of discos endlessly dilatory pleasure principle (also fuelled by coke of course). The male phallic pleasure model of build up, release, recuperation may produce bad old rock but in some ways it places limits, a boundary a no-moreness( because I can't). The (apparently) liquid, endlessly flowing, polymorphous pleasure that men envy in women, the unlimitedness of desire, dovetails into the retail therapy, the endless euphoria  of the shopper's paradise, your infinitely flexible friend, the sense that you always want, need deserve  and can manage more. That is  what being liberated means.

a note on premediation

Once you've got the idea of premeditation you begin to watch everything through that lens, especially if you have been watching lots of films that deal with America's relationship with Japan in the Eighties and its largely negative depiction of the Japanese.
Interesting to note then, watching films on the plane on the way back from England, that one of the big flops of 2012 Battleship is a film in which the Americans and the Japanese are friendly if rivalrous team mates battling an alien technologically advanced power in an around the South Pacific, long predicted and increasingly proving to be an arena of major conflict over the next century.
 Two days after I arrive back the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands' dispute hits ugly new heights.

Zen Fascists

One idea that becomes entrenched throughout the Seventies and Eighties is that Japanese workers have more say in the production process and that the less hierarchical approach allows for greater efficiency through feedback, something which has developed out of Japan being a "consensus" society. This is a highly questionable notion, Japan is intensely hierarchical and more than anything, as with the other Asian tigers (though more notionally democratic”) it resembles a country still run on a war footing. In a sense like the Japanese soldiers of legend, the whole country has never come out of the foxhole. As one of the commentators puts it in John Pilger’s Japan behind The Mask  “This is not a consensus society, that's a western invention,t hey do what they are told.”

America and Japan do share one overarching characteristic, they both believe in their own myth. Japan is not, nor has ever been an especially equal country in terms of income distribution (and clearly the US is one of the world's most unequal countries), in research done to establish the relationship between real equality as measured by the Gini coefficient and subjective perceptions of inequality both the Japanese and the Americans see their countries as being more equal than they actually are.

An irony here is that although creative destruction is believed to have its roots in asian culture, the idea of the phoenix rising from the ashes of the old, Japan itself is constantly criticised by orthodox economists for propping up zombie banks and companies through deficits and a Zero Interest rate Policy (rather as the west is now doing) and within Japan itself as it sees its position in Asia usurped by china and approached by Taiwan and South Korea there is much soul-searching about the loss of the warrior spirit, the lazy modern-day generation and the greater zeal and inventiveness of workers abroad, along with moaning about the artificially low rate for the Won and the RMB and so on. In other words exactly the same set of moralising and culturalizing assumptions about what underlies economic success that pay no attention to cyclical or contingent factors, but do allow for the pleasures of self-righteous indignation. The attitude toward Filipinos for example, now the country is undergoing surprisingly strong growth is shifting, from lazy and backwards to a hard working and forward-looking people.

The Kitsch in Sync

The opening sequence  of  Commando for instance  is a truly extraordinary display of Riefenstahlian high kitsch. 

And what are we to make of the fevered fantasy that is the opening sequence of Walter Hill's Red Heat?

Come out and play.

The Warriors, it should be said, remains one of the strangest films ever made, a kind of childlike febrile fantasy of the death of law. I am tempted to call Walter Hill a great surrealist, the way that the end of The Warriors mysteriously seems to parallel the end of La dolce vita, the extravagant homo-orientalsim of the opening sequence of Red Heat, the film from which an impressionable David Cronenberg surely stole the bath house fight in the underrated Eastern Promise. The Warriors urban fantasy land is touched with real Utopian promise, a post-patriarchal city in which the gangs divide up the territory between themselves and a form of anarchic, liberated play can reign. The gangs  themselves  in their  flamboyant dress and exaggerated mannerism along with their pop cultural references  back to the  films  two most  obvious  predecessors A Clockwork Orange and West Side Story are as delightfully camp as anything in Rocky Horror. Sheer Fabulousness.

Like much of the contemporary ruin-porn around Detroit, the legacy of de-industrialization also serves to cast declining cities as objects of fascination, post-apocalyptic arenas in which the ancient and ultra-modern intermingle and a whole genre of gang-related and cyberpunk (B) movies are also due to proliferate.

Monday, 10 December 2012

I am into C.B.

One of the blue-collar heroes of the Seventies is the truck driver. This doesn't last into the Eighties from which point on the view that they are basically illiterate and reactionary serial-killers-in- waiting prevails.

Seventie's truckers are standing up for the working man, the little guy, against the corrupt unions and the police and government. The doomed existential heroes of Two Lane Blacktop or the rather naff Vanishing Point (unsurprisingly a key reference point for terminally naff British retro-rockers Primal Scream) are given a different, more down home iteration in films like White Line Fever, Smokey and the Bandit and Convoy, the great image perhaps being the moment when a kamikaze Jan Michael Vincent drives his truck through the Glass house company billboard.

 Perhaps truckers are partly heroes in the 70s and demons in the Eighties and onwards due to their power and the success of their strikes and protests, most notably during the 1979 oil crisis.

Rock Narcotics

The American rock critic Joe Carducci attributes the shift in sound in the Seventies to increased cocaine use (as opposed to weed) producing a bright and brittle, cleaner, more separated-out sound, the album and the band that best symbolise that shift might be Van Halen whose first album recasts rock, previously oriented around Sabbath’s portentous and depressive heaviness, the drizzle booze and industry of glum Brum for a neon bright, effervescent, aluminium light, good time music, in essence re-fusing the glam sensibility of the New York Dolls or Cheap Trick with a rigidly codified jockish heterosexuality and an avowed intent to party all night. Kiss, their most obvious forerunners, return in the Eighties to make it big (again) with a slew of truly horrible paeans to women, wealth and crazy,crazy, nights.
“I’d tell you to enjoy life/ I wish I could but it’s too late”.
Versus the numb, tractionless hymn to purposeless physical exertion “Jump.”
“I get up/and nothing gets me down.”

Exit night, enter Hair Metal.

Bulls on Parade

Military budgets boom under Reagen and the Cold War rhetoric is ramped up. The American military, still smarting from getting its arse kicked in Vietnam and dithering around over Iran under Carter gets stuck into South America in earnest, backing coups, funding anti-communist insurgents, redoubling its efforts in Afghanistan and accelerating the Evil Empire propaganda. Soldiers re-emerge en masse in the Eighties, most famously of all with Rambo

Rambo is a good example of the hyperinflation of the Eighties In First Blood he's half human, still wounded by the trauma of Vietnam, by the third movie (after having returned to Vietnam to set the record straight) he is off to Afghanistan to help those powerful friends of the upcoming American Century Al Qaeda nee the Mujaheddin.)


One of the nightmare figures that haunts some of the key films of the 70’s, is the Vampire Patriarch, the corrupt, Masonic elder who sits at the centre of webs of hidden power, most notably incarnated twice by John Huston, in Polanski’s justifiably revered Chinatown and William Richert’s Winter Kills, (which stars Bridges again as the wayward son), in which he is literally prolonging his life with blood transfusions from the young. Here we might think of Arnold as the Fearless Vampire Killer, a force for (as the Historian Norman Stone is wont to phrase it with reference to Thatcherism) “tissue regeneration”, the sudden emergence of a young, vital, disciplined and powerfully self-made figure, an immigrant, a man without place or history.