Sunday, December 21, 2008

Yes . . . But Where Is It Tomorrow?*

Yes . . . But Where Is It Tomorrow?*

Preston Sturgis was a man tormented by his own genius. Like a shaman he could stand outside society and so detached observe it's workings. Unfortunately, unlike a shaman, he could not heal his community. Perhaps that inability was because he saw the whole of humanity as his community, and that is too much a burden for anyone.

Sturgis continually broke new ground, sought new thrills and engaged new ideas. Sometimes he was wildly successful, sometimes he was pitifully deficient. During his life he succeeded and failed in many professions: inventor, businessman, playwright, stage director, screenwriter, screen director, collector, songwriter (words and music), caricaturist, restaurateur, yachtsman, husband (4 times) and raconteur. His life ended in failure, a nearly forgotten man, his last gasp a half-finished autobiography entitled "The Events Leading Up To My Death."

His movie credits include 40 films as a screenwriter, 13 films as a director, 7 films as a producer and 4 films as an actor. The films run the gamut from classics to flops to forgotten, but all dealt with the human condition; the trials and tribulations of lives navigating through a treacherous society. As such, even his worst films are an attempt to deliver a message of healing to his audience. His message -- He knows, he cares, he is telling the world. Sturgis had no answers himself, but he did know how to couch his message in comedy much as a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. Alas, Sturgis did not have the magick of Mary Poppins, and if he were alive today he would no doubt think all the effort of his films were for naught.

In many ways his films were a pale image of his life. The rich characters he was known for in his films are but shadows compared to the people he knew in life. His mother, Mary Desti, was a woman possessed and lived a life too fantastic for fiction. Some of the other people that were close to him at one time or another included Isadora Duncan, Aleister Crowley, Marjorie Merriweather Post, Irving Thalberg, Howard Hughes and Darryl Zanuck. He could and did travel in many circles, and the nameless nobodies he knew also appeared, larger than life, throughout his films.

The philosopher that resembles Sturgis most intimately is Aristophanes. They both brought all their characters, large and small, to life and pit them against the capricious whims of society. Both sought to bring their message to the masses through comedy, a comedy that is at once terribly tragic and poignantly comfortable. There is a truth that gallops through their writings that is undeniably real, yet at the same time is ignored in everyday life in favor of idle illusion.

Perhaps the best homage I can pay to Preston Sturgis is to say that I want to watch every one of his films.

*Excerpt from "The Lady Eve" - pastry chef's reply to accolades of wonderment on his confectionary creation

Writer Filmography

Director Filmography

Producer Filmography

Actor Filmography

Filomgraphy from the Official Preston Sturgis Site:

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Edge

The Edge

The following is an excerpt on an interesting interview by Matthew Joyce of Peter Russell . . . interesting to me, anyway. My question is: why is philosophy dead? Indeed, to me it is dead if all it is about is one philosopher parroting another, still another philosopher denying the first, then another philosopher explaining what the other three meant, and still another philosopher contradicting the fourth, and so on, ad nauseum . . . without any one of them saying anything worthwhile to advance our common knowledge. Why is it that the following excerpt has to come from The Lunatic Fringe? And why is it that The Lunatic Fringe makes more sense than any philosopher since Socrates? Why? Because Socrates himself was a card carrying member of The Lunatic Fringe -- and THAT is where philosophy should be. The 'saneness' of mainstream Society, of mainstream philosophy, of mainstream -anything- is an illusion. The Mainstream is quite mad. I reject and refute and refuse it. The Lunatic Fringe is quite sane. Perhaps you have to have gone through the purifying fires of despair, perhaps you have to have desired to beat the shit out of Society's god, perhaps you have to have been to The Edge in order to See. Yes, that is it. Sanity is about exploring the boundaries of consciousness. If you've never cried out to the Universe for mercy, if you've never fled from all human contact, if you've never wanted to just be as Blind and Dead as the billions of Drones crowding you with their incessant and inane and ignorant chatter . . . then you've never been Alive, you've never been Sane, you've never Been.

Why am I writing this and posting that? Good question. I have no answer. I just want to. This guy ain't so smart, he just has open eyes. That, in itself, sets him apart from 99.9999% of humanity.

The Coming Paradigm Shift and What It Means

MJ: Our conversation today is going to start with some big picture issues and then focus on what people can do to advance their own spiritual paths. Can you tell us a little bit about this paradigm shift that's occurring and what's going on?

PR: It's something I call the super-paradigm because it's a paradigm of paradigms. Just to remind people, a paradigm is the basic model behind any area of science. The theory of relativity is a paradigm. In biology it has to do with DNA and RNA. The super paradigm is the much larger paradigm in which all of science - physics, biology, astronomy - does its work. That paradigm says the fundamental nature of the physical world is matter. It is material in nature and in that sense it is dead unconscious matter.

Few people in science question it. But as with all paradigms certain things can't be solved within the paradigm. The classic case was the old paradigm of the earth being the center of the universe. It couldn't explain the movement of the planets. So Copernicus said maybe the earth is revolving around the sun, which was heresy at the time. But he questioned the fundamental assumption.

The problem today with the material paradigm is that it explains everything pretty well except for the fact that we are conscious - that we have experiences and an inner world of thoughts, feelings, and imagination. There is nothing in the scientific worldview that says the dead inanimate matter that constitutes our brain cells should give rise to an experience. According to modern physics all that activity in the brain should be going on in the dark without any experience arising. Nobody can explain that.

MJ: That's a fairly large hole in the paradigm.

PR: It's a huge hole because in a sense the only thing we know with absolute certainty is that we are experiencing beings. We can doubt any aspect of our experience. We may be living in The Matrix. Our experiences may even be fed to us and there may not even be a real world. But even if I'm in The Matrix I can't doubt that I'm experiencing something. So there's always this problem of how does matter give rise to experience.

What a growing number of people have been doing is questioning the fundamental assumption that matter is not conscious. I believe there is no point at which consciousness appears. We know other animals are conscious. They experience. We see dogs and they seem to dream at night. It doesn't mean an ant thinks and feels like we do. But there is an inner model of its world. There is a subjective experience. It might be a billionth of the intensity of our consciousness. But there's something. It isn't completely unconscious.

When you take that view that conscious awareness is always there, then this problem of how dead inner matter gives rise to experience dissolves. As life has become more complex, so the inner life has got much richer and more structured until we have the magnificent rich consciousness that we experience. It's always been there.

MJ: Its one thing to talk about living things like ants or bacteria being conscious. But are you extending consciousness to what science would consider non-living matter?

PR: That's the leap. Where science normally draws a line is the nervous system. They say as soon as the nervous system evolves you have consciousness. But you still have to explain why a particular structure gives rise to experience. If you go back further and say a bacterium has some inner light but a virus doesn't, then you have to explain again this magical step of how come a bacterium has some sort of inner light. As soon as you draw a line you come up against this problem. So what we need to do is say there is no line. The consciousness of the bacterium is like a billionth of ours and the virus DNA is much less still. But there is never a point where that inner light is completely extinguished. That doesn't mean rocks think or have experiences like we do, but they are not absolutely, completely dead.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Fool

I Am The Fool

The Fool is the card of infinite possibilities.The Fool card is the zero card of the Tarot deck, and as such it represents the beginning and the end. It is almost impossible to predict exactly what will happen, since it is invariably something new, and not based upon what has gone before. The Fool defies rationality or logic. This creates an excitable sensation, a frisson or shock to the system. Zero also represents consciousness, and, in this regard, it is the conscious state of being present without the influence of the ego.

The Fool can represent the desire for rebirth, or making a new start to life, but with the proviso that the future path is not mapped out. The Fool is Nothing and Everything. It is the Empty set that contains all within it. The Fool is associated with fertility and the primal energy of Spring with the connotations of birth, rebirth, and transformation.

As a strategy, the Fool is all about avoiding the common path that everyone treads. It is finding new viewpoints, new ideas, shocking concepts, beliefs, or views. For hints as to where the Fool might be going, look to the cards around it, but remember that we may also be seeing nascent energies emanating from these cards. The Fool is something different, a fresh start.

The Fool represents crazy wisdom that shocks the listener into new states of consciousness. You can never retread an old tire when the Fool is around.

The Fool is an indescribable state of consciousness that works on impulse. It can never allow an external influence - everything is from within.

When the Fool struggles, there are problems getting out of a rut - nothing new seems possible. In the past, there are regrets over a new start that never materialized.

The white rose the fool holds aloft represents purity. This is the childlike innocence of the Fool, in which there is an organic wholesomeness. The ego has not tainted the Fool’s perspective of the world. The Fool reminds us to constantly treasure the child within us and to see the world through his eyes: with purity, excitement and a carefree attitude.

Another important symbol of the Fool Tarot card is the dog that remains by the Fool’s side. The dog is the Fool’s trusted ally, constantly reminding the Fool of the dangers that lie ahead. Symbolically, the dog represents our instincts. The dog's presence is a symbol of our internal gut reactions to situations that can be harmful or dangerous. The dog also reminds us to pay attention to our instinct, for that is what protects us before we even realize the danger.

The Fool turns to take that final step along his final path, and finds, to his bemusement that he is right back where he started, at the edge of that very same cliff he almost stepped over when he was young and too foolish to look where he was going. But now he sees his position very differently. He thought he could separate body and mind, learn all about one, then leave it to learn about the other. But in the end, it is all about self, mind and body, past and future, the individual, and the world. All one. As above, so below, and all opposites are each other, including the Fool and the Mystic who are both doorways to the secrets of the universe. With a knowing smile, the Fool takes that final step right off the cliff...and soars. Higher and higher, until the whole of the world is his to see. And there he dances, surrounded by a yoni of stars, at one with the universe. Ending, in a sense, where he began, beginning again at the end. The world turns, and the Fool's journey is complete.

In spiritual matters, the Fool means idea, thought, spirituality, that which endeavors to transcend earth. In material matters, the essential of this card is that it represents an original, subtle, sudden impulse or impact, coming from a completely strange quarter. All such impulses are right, if rightly received; and the good or ill interpretation of the card depends entirely on the right attitude of the Querent.

The Fool bears also the meaning of that which cannot be helped and which we do best to leave altogether aside; or that which will come right of itself and need not be heeded by us: that to which we are subject, as to the Earth's course in its orbit. It does not need our personal assistance. Realizing this, the 'fool' might after all appear to be wiser than a good many other people, who in their human vanity imagine they are greatly needed for carrying out the intentions of their Destiny, of Which they claim a sort of personal knowledge.

A proverb says, that children and fools tell the truth. Taken as a whole, The Fool signifies that which will prove to contain more truth than appears; that which cannot be helped; those who are unconscious of certain things, disregarding logical propositions and actions. Also that part of our surroundings over which we have no control or which we do not master; that which we have to obey or which we ignore.

"What has he in the bag?" I inquired, not knowing why I asked. And after a long silence the voice replied: "The four magic symbols, the sceptre, the cup, the sword and the pentacle. The Fool always carries them." The bag also carries the Fool’s early memories of pre-verbal experiences and unused knowledge. As well, as the Fool journeys through life, he places everything he learns into his bag. This bag of knowledge will, ultimately, form the Fool's identity and unique perspective of the world. In effect, the bag holds every meaning of every card of the Tarot deck, which the Fool can use at any time.

The Fool is everyone, and is no one.

Mohawk Prayer of Thanks

Mohawk Prayer of Thanks

The following version of the Thanksgiving Address
was sent by the Mohawk Nation and the Haudenosaunee Grand Council
via Chief Jake Swamp to the Fourth Russell Tribunal,
Rotterdam, The Netherlands, November, 1980.


We who have gathered together are responsible that our cycle continues. We have been given the duty to live in harmony with one another and other living things. We give greetings that our people still share the knowledge of our culture and ceremonies and are able to pass it on. We have our elders here and also the new faces yet to be born, which is the cycle of our families___for this we give thanks and greetings. Now our minds are one.


We give greetings and thanks to our Mother the Earth___she gives us that which makes us strong and healthy. We are grateful that she continues to perform her duties as she was instructed. The women and Mother Earth are one___givers of life. We are her color, her flesh and her roots. Now our minds are one.


We greet and thank the medicine plants of the earth. They have been instructed by the Creator to cure our diseases and sicknesses. Our people will always know their native names. They come in many forms and have many duties. Through the ones who have been vested with knowledge of the medicine plants, we give thanks. Now our minds are one.

We give greetings and thanks to the plant life. Within the plants is the force of substance that sustains many life forms. From the time of the creation we have seen the various forms of plant life work many wonders. We hope that we will continue to see plant life for the generations to come. Now our minds are one.

We give a greetings and thanks to the strawberry plants. We see them when the wind becomes warm again on the earth; the strawberries are indeed hanging there. And it is also true that we use them, that we drink the (straw)berry water. Now our minds are one.


We have been given three main foods from the plant world___they are the corn, beans, and squash___the Three Sisters. For this we give thanks and greetings in the hope that they too will continue to replenish Mother Earth with the necessities of the life cycle. Now our minds are one.


We give thanks to the spirit of waters for our strength of well being. The waters of the world have provided many things___they quench our thirst, provide food for the plant life, and are the source of strength for the medicines we need. Now our minds are one.


We give thanks and greetings to the animal life. They are still living in the forests and other places. They provide us with food and this gives us peace of mind knowing that they are still carrying out their instructions as given by the Creator. We therefore give greetings and thanks to our animal brothers. Now our minds are one.


We acknowledge and give greetings to the trees of the world. They too continue to perform the instructions which they were given. The maple trees are the symbols as the head of the trees. It is the maple trees that provide us with sap for our syrup and is the first sign of the rebirth of spring. The trees provide us with shelter, shade, and fruits. Long ago our people were given a way of peace and strength and this way is symbolized by the everlasting tree of peace. Now our minds are one.


We now turn our thoughts toward the winged creatures. They have songs which they sing to help us appreciate our own purpose in life. We are reminded to enjoy our life cycle. Some of the winged are available to us as food and they too are carrying out their responsibilities. To us the eagle is the symbol of strength. It is said that they fly the highest and can see the creation. We show our gratitude for the fulfillment of his duties. Now our minds are one.


We listen and hear the voices of the four winds. We are assured that they are following the instructions of the Creator. They bring us strength. They come from the four directions. For this we give greetings and thanks. Now our minds are one.


>To the Thunderers we call our Grandfathers we give greetings and thanks. You have also been given certain responsibilities by the Creator. We see you roaming the sky carrying with you water to renew life. Your loud voices are heard from time to time and for the protection and medicine you give, we offer our thanksgiving. Now our minds are one.


Our thoughts now turn to the sky. We see the sun, the source of life. We are instructed to call him our Eldest Brother. With the sun we can see the perfect gifts for which we are grateful. Our Brother sun nourishes Mother Earth and is the source of light and warmth. Our Brothers is the source of all fires of life. With every new sunrise is a new miracle. Now our minds are one.


During the night time we see the moon. We have been instructed to address her as our Grandmother. In her cycle she makes her face new in harmony with other female life. Our Grandmother Moon still follows the instructions of the Creator. Within these are the natural cycles of women. She determines the arrival of children, causes the tides of the oceans and she also helps us measure time. Our Grandmother continues to lead us. We are grateful and express our thanksgiving. Now our minds are one.


The Stars are the helpers of Grandmother Moon. They have spread themselves all across the sky. Our people knew their names and their messages of future happenings even to helping to mold individual character of mankind. The Stars provide us with guidance and they bring the dew to the plant life. As we view the beauty of the Stars we know that they too are following the instructions of the Creator. Now our minds are one.


The four powerful spirit beings who have been assigned by the Creator to guide us both by day and night are called the Sky Dwellers. Our Creator directed these helpers to assist him in dealing with us during our journey on Mother Earth. They know our every act and they guide us with the teachings that the Creator established. For the power of direction, we give greetings and thanks to the Sky Dwellers. Now our minds are one.


We now turn our thoughts to the Creator himself. We choose our finest words to give thanks and greetings to him. He has prepared all things on earth for our peace of mind. Then he said, “I will now prepare a place for myself where no one will know my face, but I will be listening and keeping watch on the people moving about the earth.” And indeed, we see that all things are faithful to their duties as he instructed them. We will therefore gather our minds into one and give thanks to the Creator. Now our minds are as one.

Iroquois Prayer of Thanks

Iroquois Prayer of Thanks

Greetings to the Natural World.

The People

Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people.

Now our minds are one.

The Earth Mother

We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our mother, we send greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

The Waters

We give thanks to all the waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength. Water is life. We know its power in many forms–waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of Water.

Now our minds are one.

The Fish

We turn our minds to the all the Fish life in the water. They were instructed to cleanse and purify the water. They also give themselves to us as food. We are grateful that we can still find pure water. So, we turn now to the Fish and send our greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

The Plants

Now we turn toward the vast fields of Plant life. As far as the eye can see, the Plants grow, working many wonders. They sustain many life forms. With our minds gathered together, we give thanks and look forward to seeing Plant life for many generations to come.

Now our minds are one.

The Food Plants

With one mind, we turn to honor and thank all the Food Plants we harvest from the garden. Since the beginning of time, the grains, vegetables, beans and berries have helped the people survive. Many other living things draw strength from them, too. We gather all the Plant Foods together as one and send them a greeting of thanks.

Now our minds are one.

The Medicine Herbs

Now we turn to all the Medicine Herbs of the world. From the beginning they were instructed to take away sickness. They are always waiting and ready to heal us. We are happy there are still among us those special few who remember how to use these plants for healing. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the Medicines and to the keepers of the Medicines.

Now our minds are one.

The Animals

We gather our minds together to send greetings and thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are honored by them when they give up their lives so we may use their bodies as food for our people. We see them near our homes and in the deep forests. We are glad they are still here and we hope that it will always be so.

Now our minds are one.

The Trees

We now turn our thoughts to the Trees. The Earth has many families of Trees who have their own instructions and uses. Some provide us with shelter and shade, others with fruit, beauty and other useful things. Many people of the world use a Tree as a symbol of peace and strength. With one mind, we greet and thank the Tree life.

Now our minds are one.

The Birds

We put our minds together as one and thank all the Birds who move and fly about over our heads. The Creator gave them beautiful songs. Each day they remind us to enjoy and appreciate life. The Eagle was chosen to be their leader. To all the Birds–from the smallest to the largest–we send our joyful greetings and thanks.

Now our minds are one.

The Four Winds

We are all thankful to the powers we know as the Four Winds. We hear their voices in the moving air as they refresh us and purify the air we breathe. They help us to bring the change of seasons. From the four directions they come, bringing us messages and giving us strength. With one mind, we send our greetings and thanks to the Four Winds.

Now our minds are one.

The Thunderers

Now we turn to the west where our grandfathers, the Thunder Beings, live. With lightning and thundering voices, they bring with them the water that renews life. We are thankful that they keep those evil things made by Okwiseres underground. We bring our minds together as one to send greetings and thanks to our Grandfathers, the Thunderers.

Now our minds are one.

The Sun

We now send greetings and thanks to our eldest Brother, the Sun. Each day without fail he travels the sky from east to west, bringing the light of a new day. He is the source of all the fires of life. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Brother, the Sun.

Now our minds are one.

Grandmother Moon

We put our minds together to give thanks to our oldest Grandmother, the Moon, who lights the night-time sky. She is the leader of woman all over the world, and she governs the movement of the ocean tides. By her changing face we measure time, and it is the Moon who watches over the arrival of children here on Earth. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Grandmother, the Moon.

Now our minds are one.

The Stars

We give thanks to the Stars who are spread across the sky like jewelry. We see them in the night, helping the Moon to light the darkness and bringing dew to the gardens and growing things. When we travel at night, they guide us home. With our minds gathered together as one, we send greetings and thanks to the Stars.

Now our minds are one.

The Enlightened Teachers

We gather our minds to greet and thank the enlightened Teachers who have come to help throughout the ages. When we forget how to live in harmony, they remind us of the way we were instructed to live as people. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to these caring teachers.

Now our minds are one.

The Creator

Now we turn our thoughts to the creator, or Great Spirit, and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of Creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on this Mother Earth. For all the love that is still around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greetings and thanks to the Creator.

Now our minds are one.

Closing Words

We have now arrived at the place where we end our words. Of all the things we have named, it was not our intention to leave anything out. If something was forgotten, we leave it to each individual to send such greetings and thanks in their own way.

Now our minds are one.

by Ohenton Kariwahtekwen

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Comments on "Raging Bull"

Comments on "Raging Bull"

This movie brought up a long simmering rage within me, a rage I was once well acquainted with, a rage I enjoyed and loved. The few days since the movie hasn't been enough time for me to regain complete control of that rage, and therefore this paper is only a draft -- it has only my emotion, not any rationality or any research or any dead philosophers' words. It's just me.

Jake LaMotta: She says he's pretty.
Joey LaMotta: Yeah, well, you make him ugly.

Everything I have said about what it is to be a man is idealistic bullshit. To be a man is is to have an addiction to violence. To be a man is to validate one's Self by beating an Other senseless. There is no sweeter confirmation of manhood than to stand bloody but unbroken over the bloody and broken body of another man; a man broken by one's own hands. The familiar taste of one's own blood mingling with the strange taste of a beaten Other's blood is the nectar of the gods. To stand over an Other, rage subsiding, pain returning, realizing the Other can't get up any more; that is heaven. To walk into a room and have everyone fear and respect you, that is godlike.

"Who's an animal? Your mother's an animal, ya son of a bitch." -Jake LaMotta

Life is vicious. Life is uncontrollable. Life is suffering. Everyone else has goals that are at odds with one's own goals. While one can convince others to cooperate toward mutual goals for a time, only unyielding determination of Self over Others will strip the herd of its power over Self. Either you are the bull that leads the herd, the man who determines his own destiny, or you are part of the herd, a powerless nobody cowed by the leader.

"They're in a huddle. Big business meeting. By the pool, they sit around and talk. Big deals. They make sure she can hear. Big Man. Get the fuck outta here. Big shot. Get 'em all in a back room, smack 'em around, no more big shot, without his gun." - Jake LaMotta

Talking only goes so far. Rational discussion is always derailed by obstinate refusal to understand. Petty preferences of Others seek precedence over positive principles of Self. Intentional ignorance by Others frustrates the discourse and prevents full realization of Self. Cherished goals, precious moments of independence, delicious experiences of free will, exciting explorations of life's pleasures -- all obstructed by the empty adoration of the herd for an Other. One either joins the herd in their dementia or refuses to accept the shared insanity.

"He's a nice, a nice kid. He's a pretty kid, too. I mean I don't know, I gotta problem if I should fuck him or fight him." -Jake LaMotta

Strip away the herd. Send all the cows home. Just you and me. Just Self and Other. Throw away the restrictive rules of tame society. Forget the sugar-coated niceties of etiquette. Shrug off the shackles of domestication. Settle things once and for all. Settle things like men.

"He ain't pretty no more." -Tommy Como

To stand against the world, to stand while society tries to beat you down, to stand despite the herd deciding against you, to take everything they throw at you and never buckle, never bend knee to anyone; this is what it means to be a man.

"Hey, Ray, I never went down, man! You never got me down, Ray! You hear me, you never got me down." -Jake LaMotta

But in the end man realizes not only is there no god, but that man is not god though he strives so hard to deny his birth and Be God.

"Why? Why? Why?...Why'd you do it? Why? You're so stupid...I'm not an animal. Why do you treat me like this? I'm not so bad." -Jake LaMotta (alone in his prison cell, berating himself, beating the wall with his head and hands)

To be a man is to beat the fucking shit out of anyone who gets in your way. That is what is within every man. Violence is our nature. We can't be tamed. Look around you at all the senseless violence, bloodshed, rape and war. Where is the god-like rationality? Where is the shining idealism? Where is the messiah? Nowhere. Nowhere real. Reality is blood, life is pain. I would fight anyone and everyone if it would free me from the lying words of Others. Words kill. Words allow politicians to wield bombs and withold food. Words allow religionists to live comfortably while their followers suffer for the next life. Words allow the unscrupulous to chain down the honest people, and steal the riches of the world. Fuck them all.

"I don't go down for nobody." -Jake LaMotta

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Comments on "Mirror"

Comments on "Mirror"

“It is no more than a straightforward, simple story. It doesn't have to be made any more understandable.” -Andrei Tarkovsky

In other words: life is hell then you die. Simple and straightforward? Yes. We are all, each of us, alone in our misery. We are all, each of us, separated by our pain. We are all, each of us, unable to be intimate. We are all, each of us, swept up by the winds of fate. Our individual lives mean nothing in the grand scheme.

The Spanish Civil War, World War II, the Cold War; lose, win or stalemate there is no difference: life is hell. Death is the only escape, and even then it is only a cessation of life. There is no reward; no balancing the scales.

The Soviet Union during the time period encompassed by this film (1930's-1974) was a dreary, forsaken place to live. Stalin, Malenkov, Krushchev and Brezhnev; from one circle of hell to another without the promise of an end.

The use of the same actress for the narrator's wife and mother, the lack of a father (away to war), and the unfulfilling relationships the narrator had with all three trumpet Freud's Oedipal Complex -- albeit shallowly and without any original insight.

The narrator's reminiscing constructed as a jumbled sequence of out of sync time periods reflects how human memory sometimes works. However, memory recall seeks to order events into some sort of meaning, while this film sought only to ensure there was no order, no meaning, no connections. The end result is a memory of a life as seen by a person drowning in helplessness.

The camera work was the highlight of the film. The scenic panning was very well done. The winds that periodically rolled over the countryside carried more of a message, more emotion, than the words and actions of the actors. The world the camera revealed, the world outside human control, the natural country side, the vistas . . . all were beautiful. The earth is beautiful, it is the human race that is the blight -- if there is a message to this film, this is it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Comments on "Weekend"

Comments on "Weekend"

Task: Explore Godard's philosophy about Life as expressed in the film "Week End."

Godard tells us that Life is meant to be lived free at any cost. He also expresses vividly that most people are not only content to be slaves to society, but that those slave-people are obstacles to any persons seeking to live free. In fact, the slaves of society actively seek to frustrate any attempt by individuals seeking freedom. The act of preventing a person from seeking freedom is equated to violence. Therefore, a state of war exists between those who want to live free, and those who want to perpetuate a society of masters and slaves. Since war is being waged it is incumbent upon freedom-seekers to fight back or be enslaved. In this specific case the society presented us is Western Society typified by American Capitalist Values.

Further, Godard equates the slaves of society to mindless animals. Animals are slaughtered without thought in order for humans to live. Freedom-seekers should view the slaves of society in the same way -- animals to be slaughtered so that the freedom-seekers can live free.

Godard is simply repeating some ideas of eminent philosophers such as Aristotle, Hegel and Nietzsche, and for this parroting he is credited by many as a genius. I disagree. Godard brings nothing new to the table. As much as he pretends to be outside convention, and thus outside western society, he is still firmly entrenched within western society. His only problem with society is that he is not part of the power elite.

Society is Civilization. There is no room for independent thought in Civilization, as the definition of Civilization is the domestication of the masses, and Nature, by the elite. Godard's message is simply a changing of the guard from the current elite to a different elite, his elite.

Godard recognizes that domestication of authentic persons is morally wrong, but he argues that domestication of inauthentic persons is morally right. Unfortunately, Godard has no idea of the true nature of wildness, and therefore he ends up creating the world he detests. To be domesticated is to be mindless, whether by capitalism, communism, consumerism or any other -ism that attempts to de-individualize people (i.e. create a society).

To be wild is to be mindful.

In one scene we witness the actual slaughter of a pig and a swan. In western civilization the pig is the symbol of ignorance, sloth and greed, while the white swan is a symbol of beauty, grace and purity. In western civilization, the pig is a common food animal, while the swan is rarely eaten. In western civilization, the pig is a common animal, while the white swan is a royal animal. Godard slaughters both ignorance and beauty, sloth and grace, greed and purity, common and royal. All he leaves us with is violence. Violence is not wildness.

Godard is only a cinematic thug, and easily ignored.

"All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl." - Jean-Luc Godard

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Comments on "A Bout de Souffle"

Comments on "A Bout de Souffle"

"Stereotypes are general beliefs we use to categorize people, objects, and events; but these beliefs are overstatements that shouldn't be taken literally." -Encyclopedia of Philosophy

"Our stereotyped world is not necessarily the world we should like it to be. It is simply the kind of world we expect it to be. If events correspond there is a sense of familiarity, and we feel that we are moving with the movement of events." -Walter Lippman

"They [stereotypes] are an ordered, more or less consistent picture of the world, to which our habits, our tastes, our capacities, our comforts and our hopes have adjusted themselves. They may not be a complete picture of the world, but they are a picture of a possible world to which we are adapted. In that world people and things have their well-known places, and do certain expected things. We feel at home there. We fit in. We are members. We know the way around. There we find the charm of the familiar, the normal, the dependable; its grooves and shapes are where we are accustomed to find them. And though we have abandoned much that might have tempted us before we creased ourselves into that mould, once we are firmly in, it fits as snugly as an old shoe." -Walter Lippman

Why do people retreat into stereotypes? There are many words we use to Name the Reason: an illness or an external situation or a relationship problem or culture or upbringing or peer pressure or any of many more Names. It all boils down to Fear. Fear of changing what you have into what you want. Fear of being who you know yourself to be. Fear of coming or going, doing or not doing, being right or wrong, being accepted or rejected, being popular or lonely. Fear of what others think. Fear comes in many Names and in many reasons, but Fear it Is.

Fear Itself is not a Bad thing. Fear keeps us safe by alerting us to danger. Fear keeps us on edge and focuses our attention. Fear enables us to be Brave, for without Fear we are simply Foolish. Life is full of danger. Death can come at any moment -- unexpected, unseen and unheard. Fear keeps us alive. The problem comes when we give in to Fear and retreat, when we act Cowardly.

We always have Choices. Life is a neverending series of innumerable Choices. Death is the end of Choice. When we let Fear herd us into accepting and living the Choices of Others, then we fall into a Living Death -- otherwise known as a Stereotype.

The main character of "A Bout de Souffle" ("Breathless"), Michel, lived the life of a Stereotype. He lived a life that was a shallow interpretation of the film roles and the Hollywood image of Humphrey Bogart. This was obvious from the first few minutes of the film. He was afraid to be himself, and therefore relied on his knowledge of Humphrey Bogart's film attributes to make the Choices he was confronted with.

A word about the title. My poor French translates the title to: "A Struggle for Air." That translation makes sense to me, but the translation into "Breathless" is nonsensical. Neither does it mean anything in the film, nor does it add anything to the film.

We are given this formula of Fear, Choice and Stereotype when the main character relates why he killed the policeman. Michel tells Patricia he was afraid, so he shot the cop. He was afraid of the penalties associated with stealing a car and speeding. Faced with a choice of running, accepting or fighting -- he chose what many of Humphrey Bogart's gangster characters would do: fight. This was the worst choice he could make because it meant, undeniably, a much harsher future than either of the other options. Killing a cop is not something that just goes away. Though once Michel removed himself from the scene of the crime it was if he had left that life behind and began another life -- just as Bogart begins another movie-life with each film. Michel doesn't make the Choices an Authentic Person would make if they had murdered a policeman. Instead of fleeing the area, laying low and starting a new life, he stays in Paris and intensifies his stereotypical life. He knows he is doomed, yet he pretends there is a happy ending on its way. The film ends with Reality overtaking and overcoming Michel's illusion that he will skillfully outwit and escape the police, and his destruction. Michel is killed by the police who are hunting him. Killed as he lived, Other people making his decisions for him -- the Italian gangster who throws the gun to him even though Michel refused it, and the policeman who shot him though Michel had, now, no intention of fighting.

All through the film Michel pretends to be what he is not -- he pretends he can only stay at the Claridge (an expensive hotel) but he always is bumming a space to stay. He pretends he is rich and flamboyant through his choice of stolen cars and his wild claims of money and heritage, but he is always broke, begging/stealing and predictable. He pretends he is living life dangerously, but he is living life according to a script -- living dangerously is living Authentically, making Choices because of a strong sense of Self, living the Life of a Unique Person. But he never makes a Real Choice. Fear always herds him into the actions of a stereotypical American gangster.

Along the way there is another character struggling with Life, Fear, Choice and Stereotype: Patricia. She has not succumbed to Stereotype when we meet her. She is struggling to Be Patricia. She is struggling to break out of the stereotypes she is put into by those around her. She is a "New York Girl," and nothing more to everyone except her boss, who sees potential in her to be a journalist. There are two critical moments in the film for Patricia. The first is her interview of the VIP film director, an egotistical idiot who treats Patricia as a sex object. Patricia trys to assert herself, but in the end resorts to be exactly the stereotype the VIP overlays upon her. Her shy smile, batting eyelids and bowed head after being ignored and insulted are undeniable acts of submission.

The second crucial moment is when Michel responds to her horror of someone informing on him: "It's life. Informers inform. Burglars burgle. Murderers murder. Lovers love." We see her take that statement in and think about it. In the end she accepts this statement of what life Is, and decides she is a journalist -- and therefore must turn Michel in and, we are left to presume (because Godard isn't brave enough to give us two minutes of Patricia as the main character) she goes on to write about her interlude with a cop-killer for the newspaper. Undoubtedly, such a story would jumpstart her career, and no longer would she be ignored and insulted by the people she would be interviewing. She decides that the stereotype of being a journalist is easier than Being an Authentic Person -- is easier than Being Patricia. Patricia has tough Choices to make about Michel, a journalist has only one choice.

I found the movie itself unappealing, poorly written and poorly acted. Jean-Paul Belmondo as Michel was irritating, loutish and shallow. Jean Seberg as Patricia was believable, though not anywhere near ugly as her character's lines would have us believe. However, her character's treatment by Godard seriously lessens her impact on the film, and therefore her character is poorly integrated. The rest of the actors walk through their lines in cardboard cutout fashion.

Godard makes no attempt to portray Patricia as the primary character even though she is the Ultimate Message in the film. She is the Everyperson fighting for Authenticity, awash in the agonizing throes of Individuality, uncertain facing the capricious stereotypes of Society. Michel has already sealed his stereotypical Fate before the movie begins. Michel only acts out the inevitable without ever flinching from the necessary demise of his chosen stereotype. Belmondo's acting isn't very good at all, and only adds reinforcement to the obviously singular dimensionality of the stereotype. But Patricia struggles throughout the film to find her Self, to Be an individual, in a cowardly Society of faceless crowds. Seberg's acting transcends what Godard grudgingly allows her by adding a genuineness to every expression and movement absent from the dialogue. She loses the battle in the end, as do so many people, but her war lasts the entire movie. Michel's last words seal Patricia's Fate as he recognizes she has chosen her Stereotype at last. He is no longer attracted to her, and as he dies he rejects her and his own Choice. These last words are the judgment against succumbing to stereotype, and Patricia's copying of Michel's aping of Bogart's lip-rubbing seals the rotten deal. Here is the vibrant Message that Godard has tried to convey, but it comes too late and too ineffectual to save the film.

Ironically, Patricia's Choice to be an Individual was to be a Journalist, and the Choice she made that dooms her is to be a Stereotypical Journalist.

Unfortunately, we aren't exactly sure what those last words are because they can be, and are, interpreted different ways by different releases of the film. This only adds to the dilettantish nature of the film. Evidently nobody thought to read the script, or ask any of the people involved. This, perhaps more than anything, is the most damning indictment on our Society by this film, and it is totally unexpected and extraneous to the film itself. What is clear, however, is that Vital (the detective) misquotes Michel. This misquote is obviously Vital's own feelings about Patricia -- feelings he never hides throughout his dealings with her. This bit by Vital signifies Society's need for stereotypes in order to function. Society cannot survive a population of Individuals. Society perpetuates itself through a crowd of faceless stereotypes.

The last bit of dialogue:

MICHEL: That's really disgusting.
PATRICIA: What did he say?
VITAL: He said, "You are really a bitch."
PATRICIA: What is "déguelasse" [bitch]?


MICHEL: You are really disgusting.
PATRICIA: What did he say?
VITAL: He said, "You are really a bitch."
PATRICIA: What is "déguelasse" [bitch]?


MICHEL: You are really a disgusting thing.
PATRICIA: What did he say?
VITAL: He said, "You are really a bitch."
PATRICIA: What is "déguelasse" [bitch]?


MICHEL: It's a real scumbag.
PATRICIA: What did he say?
VITAL: He said, "You're a real scumbag".
PATRICIA: What's a scumbag?


MICHEL: Makes me want to puke.
PATRICIA: What did he say?
VITAL: He said you make him want to puke.
PATRICIA: What's that mean, "puke"?


MICHEL: It makes me want to puke.
PATRICIA: What did he say?
VITAL: He said you make him want to puke.
PATRICIA: What's that mean, "puke"?

Now, a couple thoughts on Godard's influence on this film. The travelogue shots of Paris scenery reinforce the Message that this film is about stereotypes. A French film released for French audiences would not have these long landmark shots shown so prominently. That they are obvious travel documentary-type footage reflects the American Stereotype Godard is reaching for in the characters of Michel and Patricia. These interludes might have been inspirational if they were not so blatant. However, I did find the lingering view of the Eiffel Tower a perfect metaphor for the philosophy of phallic dominance evidenced throughout the film. There is no subtlety here, only a hammering of a square peg into a round hole.

Godard's use of hand-held cameras and "Jump Cuts" could have been ingenious. However, they only serve to detract from the continuity of the film because they are done amateurishly. Granted, the Jump Cuts are a new technique introduced in this film, and only by accident (at best, at worst they were done spitefully -- again, like the last bit of dialogue, there is uncertainty and several versions about the reason they are there). These two techniques are important aspects of Godard's intention, but they could have been accomplished with more polish -- and they then, perhaps, could have saved this film.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Comments on "Sullivan's Travels"

Comments on "Sullivan's Travels"

(these are simply notes)

Sturges asks many philosophic Questions, but Answers none. In fact, as Sturges said: he set out only to show conditions and let the audience draw conclusions. The Almost-Answers he gives us touch upon the basic Platonic Form of Goodness as a means to an End. But never does he set a description of the Goal, the Utopia, he yearns for, and in the life of Sullivan, he accepts defeat and returns to the Question. Therefore, the film becomes a cry for help. By using comedy to couch the message, Sturges is trying to portray the Messenger as innocent, self-deprecating and non-threatening. John L. Sullivan as The Messenger is a combination of the tragic hero and the virtuous fool. Note also, that the name "John L. Sullivan" is the name of a contemporary legendary Hero in the mold of Hercules. The boxer by the same name was the last of the bare-knuckle heavyweight champions, and first of the gloved champions, a Champion of Champions as inscribed on one of his championship belts. One could also compare "Sullivan's Travels" to the Labors of Hercules in a comic way.

The Tragic Hero is, according to Aristotle, "an intermediate kind of personage, not pre-eminently virtuous and just," though not lacking those qualities either, but laboring under an error in judgment that ultimately leads to misfortune. The Virtuous Fool is a person who means well, and for the best and most unselfish motives, but is ignorant of the machinations of Reality and is prey to misfortune and the whims of luck. Sullivan is both. Sullivan sees the social problems in the country and is brave enough to willingly endanger his life in order to help alleviate social problems. But he doesn't understand the complexity or enormity of the situation, and is therefore ignorant of Reality -- seeing only an Illusion.

The film progresses from one Illusion of Reality to another as Sullivan labors out of his own self-indulgent ignorance to the greater realization that everyone, even he, is held captive in an unfair Society. Each scene creates a different understanding of Reality which is inevitably proven false, and replaced with another Reality that endures for a bit until itself is proven false and replaced. Each successive Reality is more intense and accurate, yet still unrelentingly false. No Ultimate Reality is ever found, instead all the Illusions are deemed Real. Life is conducted on a stage of overlapping Illusions, each a Reality to the people within it. Sullivan must travel through a number of these Illusions before he realizes he can no more pull the people out of their illusory Reality than he can leave his own behind.

The train sequence in the beginning sets the rules by presenting a situation and then refuting it as illusory. Then, Sullivan is set up as the righteous elite, a man with money and status who wants to champion the Good Cause. Then we see not only that he is fooled into realizing his ignorance, but his marriage is not a bond of love but only of Law and Privilege. This initial situation defines Sullivan as both the Tragic Hero and the Virtuous Fool, and Law as powerful but misguided by Privilege. Law & Privilege are the real antagonists Sullivan must overcome, and he eventually does so in the specific example of marriage, though only through an unforseen, unplanned twist of fate. However, Law is overcome here and in the chain-gang Illusion, but not in the sufferings of the poor. Privilege is never defeated. Indeed, in the end, Sullivan returns to his life of privilege, and brings "The Girl" with him. In a decadent sense, Privilege is something for which to strive.

The next Illusion presented as Reality, and then refuted, is Sullivan's first foray as a hobo. Though dressed in raggedy clothes and walking alone, he is watched over by an entourage charged with keeping him safe. This entourage travels in the lap of luxury even as far as having their own cook aboard the land yacht. As well, the streets Sullivan walks are those of Hollywood, an Illusion in itself. Nothing is real in this segment, not even the teenager's Whippet tank. The backwards speedometer registering over 120 mph hammers home the farce.

Then we have Sullivan trying to earn money as a handyman. Here we are still in the frivolous Illusions of comedy. We are alerted that this Reality is only Illusion by the spinster/widow characters, Ursula and Miz Zeffie, who are obviously extreme and opposite stereotypes. Also, the picture of the dead husband which changes expression as events unfold lets the audience know this scene is farcical. The sarcasm of this situation ridicules the ignorance of Sullivan, while lulling us into a false sense of what this movie will be. The comedy here relaxes us, and opens us up to accept the sober messages presented from here on out. For though the characters here are comedic stereotypes, and the action is slapstick, we also know instinctively that there are people like this, living this precise Illusion. Sturges writes his ironic critique of Society even in silly situations such as this one.

His exasperated remark after finding himself back in Hollywood after the Miz Zeffie escapade, that "everything keeps shoving me back to Hollywood as if some force were saying: "Get back to where you belong!"," is the Question running all through this film. That Sullivan is out of his element is the tragedy in the background, as all of us are consigned to our respective Fates if Sullivan cannot break free from the shackles of his Fate to be a musical comedy writer. If Sullivan can learn enough to write a successful socially conscious film then we know we can break free from our private Fates as well.

Enter "The Girl." Sullivan is befriended by an out-of-luck (and money) aspiring actress in the next Illusion. "The Girl" displays her street-smarts through her quick assessments, sharp comments and cynical outlook. She thereby highlights the depths of Sullivan's ignorance -- he's basically clueless. But through it all something else emerges from their meeting: the beginnings of a Human Bond.

Some criticize "The Girl" character as being simply the obligatory "girl" every movie needs -- a love interest and a bit of sex. Some of these critics go so far as to denounce the character as being totally unnecessary to the plot. That view is intrinsically sexist, and it is obvious that "The Girl" is one of the most important philosophical characters. From the moment she buys Sullivan breakfast with a portion of the last of her money, too little money to get home, and no reason to think it will be repaid in any way, she displays the concrete Good Samaritan traits the film offers as the only thing close to an Answer to the Questions it poses. It also displays the social Reality of those who are least able, giving and caring more than those who are most able. As well, by convincing Sullivan to take her with him, she embodies the notion that none of us are truly alone in this world, and none of us can make it alone no matter how hard we try. We all need a little help from our friends. The friendship "The Girl" provides is a pure relationship, yet hearty, uninhibited and natural -- and therefore Real. They travel together because they care what happens to each other, not for sex or for what one can take from the other. Their opposite outlooks complement each other in a comedic and happy way. They enjoy each other's company even though they come from opposite ends of Society. Just how far apart they are is illustrated through how far away "home" is for "The Girl" -- Chicago being a little more than halfway there. There is an entire continent of difference between them. It is New York versus Hollywood. Yet each laugh they share is a bulwark against the miseries they endure. Here is a testament to the magick and power of Laughter in everyday life.

Their first adventure together, hopping the freight train, ends miserably. Not only are they both obviously outsiders to this Hobo World, and therefore shunned, they very quickly demonstrate an inability to survive outside their element by falling prey to hunger, exhaustion and illness. Sullivan is portrayed the weakest of the two by falling ill, but the Illusion of self-sufficiency "The Girl" had displayed previously is shattered. However, their perseverance is reason for Hope when they try again. This time they learn to adapt to the Hobo Illusion, and we are treated to a lyrically orchestrated extravaganza of composition and movement as they adventure in the Hobo camps. Here we see the poverty in the terms described at the outset by the valet: "a positive plague, virulent in itself, contagious as cholera, with filth, criminality, vice and despair as only a few of its symptoms." Here Sullivan, and "The Girl," realize they have learned more than they bargained for, that both long desperately to be safe and comfortable in their own private Illusions.

But Sturges does not end here. We are just beginning to get into the meat of the film. Just as it looks like it will be a "boy gets girl, lives happily ever after" movie, an unexpected twist strikes Sullivan down. He is cold-cocked by the tramp as he passes out $5 bills (a futile gesture showing his lack of an Answer), and afterward, his frail constitution evidenced throughout the film leaves him believably befuddled. The altercation with the Yard Bull finally elicits a deeply personal emotion in Sullivan: Rage. The anger directed at the yard Bull is as much directed against all the injustices Sullivan had found to this point. The Yard Bull took the blows intended for Society. In a state of confusion he gets railroaded to a chain-gang for his assault. The Justice System is then lampooned as Unjust, and the prison revealed as being without any redeeming value. Here, on the chain-gang, Sullivan descends into the Oblivion of the Masses. He loses his place in Society, becomes Nameless, and is labeled a troublesome criminal. This Illusion becomes harsh Reality for Sullivan. Here he finally learns how inescapable suffering feels like.

And we get to see how Sullivan's "death" affects his colleagues and The Girl. We see by their actions that they did indeed love Sullivan as a person, and not for what he could do. The sadness of The Girl is Real.

When we think Sturges cannot show us anything worse, we are introduced to the members of a poor African-American parish. It is implicit that the African-Americans at this time had even less rights than prisoners of the State, and that their bondage was everlasting. Sullivan had only to endure six years and he could then reclaim his former life. The people of the church could never end the oppression they faced every day of their lives. And it is here among these truly unfortunate people we find the only group example of the Goodness some call Humanity, the willingness to share unconditionally -- that same Virtue displayed by The Girl when first meeting Sullivan. Here also we are introduced to the character of The Preacher.

The Preacher provides the call for Good to overcome Evil through his speech to the congregation and his song phrase, "Let My People Go." "The people" are directly referenced as the poor and oppressed African-Americans of the church, 24 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Also referenced directly by the chain-gang-march down the isle of the church, are the prisoners of the state. But the call radiates outward to all the characters in the film who came before: the poor and the hoboes, certainly, but also the diner owners, the country spinsters, the urban homeless, the film studio's entourage that followed Sullivan around, the studio bosses themselves, and of course: Sullivan and "The Girl." It is a call to all the downtrodden to realize their submission to Society, and to the powers-that-be a call to unchain the masses. But the only Answer the preacher, or Sturges, has is for basic Goodness (love, compassion, service) to prevail. This is less an Answer than it is Hope. Hope being what's left when there is no Answer. In the end, in lieu of an Answer, Sullivan endures a tragicomic resurrection as an Aristophanic protagonist, but his sober return to making musical comedies is a pronouncement that the status quo will survive. The People will not be "let go," and the suffering will continue. The best Sullivan can do, even with all his money and status, is return to doing what he does best, make musical comedies, and leave the job of reform to Others. This tells us that we all have something we are good at, and that bit of talent strengthens the Good and lessens the overall Evil. So, for the Good of every person we should pursue our unique talent above all else, much as in Plato's "Republic": the Talent that distinguishes us is our role in Society. In its debased form: the Job defines the Individual, and that notion is sarcastically debunked throughout the film in such characters as the valet, the chauffeur, the preacher, the trustee, etc -- all of whom are far more than their job titles, and in Sullivan, his wife, the studio bosses, the scenarist, the prison guard, etc, who are so much less than the status their jobs give them. Sturges raises the bar on this Platonic philosophy by declaring our talent is our unique gift to Society, but Society oftimes doesn't recognize our Talent. Sturges tells us that one person's Talent is a blessing for all, but one person cannot change the course of Society. A more serious, and threatening, message in this is that it is futile and dangerous to walk outside our specific role allocated by Society, whether that role be misapplied or not.

In this, Sturges follows in the tradition of Aristophanes as a writer of personal opinion who paints his own moral attitude across the canvas of Society. Sturges parodies Plato's "Republic" in the same manner as Aristophanes does in "Ecclesiazusae." Sturges betters Aristophanes' Illusion as Reality (the women impersonating men in order to take over the council) by constructing Reality out of many different Illusions. Where Aristophanes pits women against men in a struggle for hierarchy, Sturges elevates Woman to the equal of Man in the character of "The Girl." Where Aristophanes improves on Plato's philosophy of the role of the sexes, Sturges improves on Aristophanes' struggle between the sexes. Sturges shows how Woman and Man can complement each other instead of struggling against each other by presenting the opposing characters of the Aristophanic "wife" and the Sturgic "Girl."

Sturges also follows Aristophanes in the philosophy of tragic comedy whereby the hero is portrayed as someone who dies and is resurrected. Sullivan does not literally die, but he is thought dead while being trapped in the severest tragedy -- imprisoned, abused and stripped of all rights. Sullivan finds himself in chain-gang Hell. He finally escapes by shouting out that he committed a murder, of himself -- a tragic piece of comedy that shows this Reality of Society as nothing but Illusion also. He ritually kills his old sense of Self by this act, and is thereby truly resurrected a new Hero with a new sense of Self within the all-inclusive Illusion that is the Reality of Society. The struggle of finding Reality by shattering one Illusion after another ends here as Sullivan finally accepts Society's Illusion as the Reality that cannot be escaped. There is no more journey to find enlightenment, only an absurd fatalism to follow one's own personal path through Life, as dictated by circumstance.

Despite Sturges intent not to provide an Answer, there is a constructive Answer that emerges through Sullivan's defeat at trying to be something other than what he is meant to be. The Answer we are left with is not that everyone has a specific role in society, for there can be no justifying the role of being cheated, poor, homeless, denied rights or abused, but that comedy has a therapeutic value for the desperate who suffer under an unjust system. The Answer defines comedy as not only about laughing at someone else's misfortune, but laughing at and despite our own misfortunes, inadequacies and defeats. Laughing in the face of overwhelming adversity is therapeutic for the Spirit. For to laugh at one's own powerlessness is to empower one's Self with renewed Spirit -- with the Will to keep trying, even to keep Living. Without that, the only relief is Death. What a horrible world it would be without Good Laughter.

The paradox here is that such a weighty Answer seems so trivial and useless, or perhaps it is that comedy writers like Sturges and Aristophanes only come around once every 2500 years, and the comedies written inbetween times are trivial.

(some thought I should have applied Kant to this film) According to Kant, Generosity and Pity are vices. I would argue him wrong on both accounts. Without Generosity the world would be dominated by selfishness. Generosity teaches us not to value possessions over Persons, and not to value one Person over Another. Would that there be more Generosity in the world, not less. Pity is a necessity for a Virtuous World (i.e. Utopia). Pity teaches us how grateful we should be for what we have. Pity teaches us that our sufferings are minor compared to what we could have to endure but for the fickleness of Fate. Pity teaches us to be Generous. Perhaps that last is why Pity has such a bad name nowadays: the Kantian powers that be would much rather us not learn about Generosity, instead we should learn to covet our riches or accept our poverty, and never learn that it is a Virtue to unconditionally give to Others more than we can afford and still maintain our lifestyle. After all, if many People can live in poverty all around me, then by what Virtue can I deny them what I have and still find Sanctuary.

I consider "The Girl" unconditionally buying Sullivan a meal though she had not enough money to live on, and, conversing with him as a Person (not as a "tramp") are two forms of Generosity engendered by Pity. "The Girl" was moved to do these two things because Sullivan appeared needy. She would not have done either if he sent his servant into the diner to fetch him food. Pity first, then Generosity -- this formula is Virtue.

Pity not leading to Generosity is a Vice. Generosity not born of Pity is a Vice. Pity directs Generosity to where it is needed.

Sullivan wanting to jeopardize his career to not only make a socially relevent film, but to actually change Society, is also an example of Pity birthing Generosity. However, Sullivan's Generosity goes through a long, difficult labor and then is born dead. Sullivan retains his Pity but no longer is moved towards Generosity. Sullivan will keep his Privilege (i.e. status and riches) and continue to do the least he can do for those less fortunate. Therefore I consider his attempt a failure as it ends in Vice.

As well, I consider Kantian Philosophy an inappropriate viewpoint from which to assess the philosophical content of this film. Kant would consider that Sullivan's initial intent was Vicious, and he eventually was led to Virtue through Reason activated by Experience. Instead, using the viewpoint of Aristophanes, who brings his Virtuous People through tragedy and then resurrects them improved but still flawed, is the correct lens for this film. Kant always has an Answer, but Aristophanes and Sturges have left us with Questions that Kant cannot Answer rightly.

So, even though Kant's idea that Reality is purely mental is appropriate, the danger of bringing him into the discussion is that the rest of his ideas might overshadow the Aristophanic message of the film -- that Society is corrupt and needs to be changed but we don't have an Answer yet so Somebody out there has to help us find an Answer, or the best we can do is trudge drearily through Life waiting for our Sisyphusian moments of shelter from the storm. Of course, our Society is much more Kantian than Aristophanic, and therein lies our Tragedy.

I forgot to expand on Privilege above -- the two arrest scenes in the film highlight the foundations of Privilege. In the first arrest, in Hollywood, Sullivan is let go once it is established who he is, even though he treats the police sergeant as an inconsequential and bothersome nuisance. In the second arrest he is believed to be a tramp and is not allowed to prove his identity even though contrite in his actions. However, once he finagles his real identity to be known, Privilege reasserts itself and he is released from the chain-gang. Therefore, if this film was about Kantian Answers then it would be that Privilege is a Virtue. If it is about Aristophanic Questions then Privilege is one of the Vices of Society that must be overcome.


Things to consider and questions to answer while watching "Sullivan's Travels":

He cameos in "Sullivan's Travels" as the studio director.

Sturges was the first writer-director since the silent movie era.

Sturges is credited with introducing irony into film.

Sturges trademark was rapid-fire, spiraling exchanges between two or more characters filled with double entendres and humor.

Sturges made signature use of the pratfall to elicit laughs and move his films through the storyline.

Sturges employed long, uncut, single-take scenes to establish his elaborate scripts.

Sturges is noted for having the ability to tease a full human character out of the smallest role in a film.

Sturges used montage editing when he wanted to speed up the plot, as he dispensed with dialogue and let the crisp movement and montage of silent farce fill the screen with hurtling bodies. The music becomes the voice for the characters, telling the audience what to think and feel of the situation.

Preston Sturges would concentrate more on the actors and their emotions than what was going on around them. A deep focus shot for Preston Sturges was rare, as most shots provided were done in soft focus with close-ups, making the actor the only object in the frame.

Sturges wrote his own epitaph:
Now I've laid me down to die
I pray my neighbours not to pry
Too deeply into sins that I
Not only cannot here deny
But much enjoyed as life flew by.

"The only thing Preston Sturges ever did for writers is make them all jealous." ~~ Hal Kantor

The film transitions from slapstick to stark drama to high comedy to severe tragedy, with romantic spells, social realism, amusing escapism, social commentary and philosophy sprinkled liberally throughout. How well does the film accomplish these feats of mental, emotional and spiritual calisthenics?

The film has been described as freewheeling, frenzied, schizophrenic and a rollercoaster ride. What would you call it, and what does this style bring to the interpretation of its message?

The film gives a glimpse into the studio system in its glory days, when working on a picture was like going to work with your extended family. How does this film's studio family compare to the roles of a genetic family. As well, the film attacks the sanctimonious ideals of privileged directors and the spurious attempts of the studios to make 'serious' movies. How well does the film combine the two seemingly antagonistic extremes of close family bonds, and, elites ignorant to the plight of the poor?

The preacher in this movie, like the chaplin in "Clockwork," is a pivotal philosophical character. What are the roles of religion and religious people in film, and where have the philosophers gone?

What does the range of violence in the film represent, and how many types of violence are portrayed?

The lead female role has no name, known only as "The Girl." What does this mean philosophically? How does her various attributes as portrayed in the film reflect on the role of women in society? Is she a unique individual or are her qualities universal? What is the philosophic message in that character?

The film attempts to show the brutality of poverty, of the prison system, of race relations, of the bondage of marriage, and of the fate of young women in a sexually voracious society -- all by juxtaposing these against the virtuous beauty of friendship, love and compassion while being a commentary on both the inequities of our society and the constructive, and, the fulfilling role of the individual in creating a better society. All of that in a light-hearted comedy. Is comedy a good vehicle for such a message? Why, why not, and how could the film better portray these themes?

The dialogue is full of intellectual phrases and sentences like "..the bitter dregs of vicissitude..", "Poverty is not the lack of anything, but a positive plague, virulent in itself, contagious as cholera, with filth, criminality, vice and despair as only a few of its symptoms." These lines seem to be incapable of harmonizing with comedy. The message behind the words is clear, but how and why is humour wrapped around these lines, and does it weaken or strengthen the message of the words?