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August 3, 2005

Follow Your Dreams

At the moment, I'm reading "The Origins of Totalitarianism" by Hannah Arendt. Good book, because Arendt isn't moralizing, she's just very curious what made Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia tick, and she's trying to find out the way a detective might investigate a murder: she's looking for clues in the past of the suspects, mainly in the 19th century. Maybe that's why it reads like a crime novel at some points. It seems to me to be a very timely book, too, good for a better understanding of certain characteristics the Bush administration. I'm not saying that the USA is a totalitarian state yet, but some strategies are very similar, e. g. the tendency first to tell a lie and then change reality in order to make it fit. Sixty years ago, it went like: "Russians have no culture. They do have a culture, you say? Well, no problem, we put some of them in this cage here and give them nothing to eat for weeks. Look, now they start eating each other. See what I mean? Russians have no culture, they're savages. So there." Today, it's more like: "Arabs are evil and want to kill us. They don't want to kill us, you say? Well, no problem, we just bomb a few thousands of them into smithereens, torture some more for no reason whatsoever and occupy one of their countries on the flimsiest of pretexts. Look, now they call us Satan and blow themselves up near where we're standing. See what I mean? Arabs are evil and want to kill us, no respect for life. They're savages. So there." Seems to work like a charm at the moment.

Immortal Cattle

A few weeks ago, I saw that "Immortal" movie by Enki Bilal. Disappointing. A few nice retro SF visual ideas of weird guys moving around in an elegantly decaying Eastern bloc - style New York ruined by an incredibly stupid, cramped, opportunistic story woven around it containing even more stupid, awkward dialogues trying to be metaphysical. The sad thing is, his comic he based that movie on, "Foire aux Immortels", used to be one of my favorites back when it came out, it's as if he failed to engage with his own work. Quite a few French comic artists I used to adore in the Eighties (Bilal, Sokal, Druillet etc.) seem to be fixated on CGI nowadays. It's not for them, would somebody please tell them that CGI is a trap for artists like them? Yeah, it looks like a good idea and the new big thing and a challenge and what they always dreamt of and all that, but it's too much work, too much money, too many people involved, so all the creativity gets stale and formulaic, and accordingly the results are dull. They also often try to bend a genre before having mastered it. If you want to take SF movies to a new level you have to be able to do standard SF first, just soldering ambitious pictural and textual "Kultur"-quotations together with an insufficient mixture of genre elements doth not anything memorable make. Plus, mistakes like that are a lot more forgivable if they're just committed by a guy at his drawing board without the need of them being spelled out and amplified by armies of tech and movie people busy for years with programming, designing, acting, marketing, arguing, keeping the sets clean, feeding the crew etc.

Another movie I saw recently is "Island of Lost Souls". I mainly went to see it because Raymond Bellour was going to introduce it and he's one of the best movie theoreticians on the planet, so I thought it might be interesting. However, he just narrated the basic facts about the movie for three minutes, attached some half-baked thoughts to it and was out of the door. I liked the movie, though, an adaptation of the "Island of Dr. Moreau" with a disconcertingly beautiful panther woman and Charles Laughton as Moreau. There's a ritualistic scene with Laughton and Bela Lugosi playing one of his creatures with a lot of facial hair, both interacting as follows:

Dr. Moreau: What is the law?
Sayer of the Law: Not to eat meat, that is the law. Are we not men?
Beasts (in unison): Are we not men?
Dr. Moreau: What is the law?
Sayer of the Law: Not to go on all fours, that is the law. Are we not men?
Beasts (in unison): Are we not men?
Dr. Moreau: What is the law?
Sayer of the Law: Not to spill blood, that is the law. Are we not men?
Beasts (in unison): Are we not men?

Somehow, there's something memorable about this exchange, I tend to imagine it was quoted and reworked not only by Devo but also in thousands of campus rituals involving a lot of booze.

Infinitesimal Socialism

Antonio Negri writing about Marx reminds me of a tortoise writing about Zeno's second paradox: "Hooray, hooray, Achilles cannot catch me!"