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?

Comments on "A Clockwork Orange"

Comments on "A Clockwork Orange"

My viewpoint on "A Clockwork Orange" may be considered radical because I have been forced by the State to live with a few individuals similar to the main character of this film. This is personal, as philosophy should be. So be it.

First a few quotes from philosophers to set the tone:

"Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent. Violence appears where power is in jeopardy, but left to its own course it ends in power's disappearance." Hannah Arendt

"But if there is no one who desires to be miserable, there is no one, Meno, who desires evil; for what is misery but the desire and possession of evil?" Socrates, "Meno" (Plato)

"It may be confidently asserted that no man chooses evil, because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks." Mary Wollstonecraft, "A Vindication of the Rights of Men"

"The gifts of a bad man bring no good with them." Euripides, "Medea"

"One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion." Simone de Beauvoir, "Old Age"

"As long as people believe in absurdities they will continue to commit atrocities." Voltaire

"The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me." Ayn Rand

"Women have received from the gods the same ability to reason that men have." Musonius Rufus

"Poor human nature, what horrible crimes have been committed in thy name!" Emma Goldman

"At one time through love all things come together into one, at another time, through strife's hatred, they are borne each of them apart." Empedocles

"No evil dooms us hopelessly except the evil we love, and desire to continue in, and make no effort to escape from." George Eliot, "Daniel Deronda"

"Most men are within a finger's breadth of being mad." Diogenes The Cynic

"It [the Self] is a tool tuned, in varying degrees, to the reality of brain and world; like other tools, it can malfunction, for example, in schizophrenia." Patricia Churchland

"This is the very worst wickedness, that we refuse to acknowledge the passionate evil that is in us. This makes us secret and rotten." D.H. Lawrence, "Letters of D.H. Lawrence"

"I couldn't claim that I have never felt the urge to explore evil, but when you descend into hell you have to be very careful." Kathleen Raine

"There is only one good, knowledge, and only one evil, ignorance." Socrates, "Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers" (Diogenes Laertius)

"If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- forever.” George Orwell

"Jails and prisons are designed to break human beings, to convert the population into specimens in a zoo - obedient to our keepers, but dangerous to each other." Angela Davis

"Humanity, you never had it to begin with." Charles Bukowski

I was told that the above quotes are not relevant to the film . . . sigh . . . we each have different realities.

OK, on with the show:

While the State still seeks to re-program the disaffected in order to provide safety for the constructive citizenry, the goals, targets and methods have changed. As well, the State, the disaffected and the criminals themselves have changed. Now, most of the common criminals are non-violent drug offenders, themselves victims of emotional, physical or sexual abuse while children. The violent criminals are the rich elites who plunder the world's resources, engaging in wars and State terrorism to further their goal of amassing vast amounts of treasure in order to live without constraint. The desires of the current elite are embodied in the film by the main character. The terror of society breaking down into roaming gangs of antisocial thugs perpetrating endless acts of random violence against random individuals is no longer with us. Now the bogeyman wears a turban (Islamic Terrorists) or a black bandana (Black Flag Anarchists), and their target is the State. The goals of the our new bogeymen are embodied in the film by the State.

As well, the psychological re-programming is no longer done by the State upon violent criminals by way of scientific methods, but by the Media upon the general citizenry, who in turn demand their leaders partake of the same illusionary reality. The political leaders themselves are no longer in control, being merely marionettes in a puppet show orchestrated by the invisible owners of the Media. All who act contrary to this shared hallucination of good and evil are not only deemed mentally and/or emotionally unbalanced, but ultimately question their own sanity also. When society is sick the sane people can only be found in the ranks of the malcontents and the radical fringe. The methods the sane must employ are harsh because the foe they struggle against wields unimaginable power, and terror. Rising up in revolt against the culture of a sick society that enslaves the minds and lives of its citizens is a sacred act. But to equate the defense of the glorious freedom of Self to the perverted passion of malignant hate evidenced in this film's main character is sheer nonsense. This film is shallow and has nothing to say that is uniquely constructive. It therefore qualifies for consideration of obscenity.

It is true that there is, within Society, a concerted effort to deprive the individual of Choice. But that effort nowadays is spearheaded by monopolistic marketing philosophies instead of the therapeutic psychological treatments stereotyped in the film. Overtly mucking about with a person's mind has become taboo, but surreptitiously influencing behaviour has become the norm. Overtly denying a person Choice has become taboo, while denying Choice by nurturing a system where there is only one "Choice" is acceptable. Evidence the dominations in the following examples: Microsoft controlling the software industry, the oil conglomerates controlling the energy industry, special interest groups controlling the political arena, Wal-Mart controlling basic consumer goods, the Media controlling the flow of news and information, Chinese imports controlling the USA economy, the pharmaceutical companies controlling medical treatments, HMOs controlling healthcare availability, the two-party political system denying democracy and wielding totalitarian power and so on. The list is endless in every direction, but the denial of an Individual's Choices portrayed in this film is no longer a real threat. To be on guard for a 'Clockwork-type' of radical brainwashing is to joust with shadows. Better to defend one's Self against mind controlling prescription drugs marketed on television that promise normalcy and happiness.

Initiation into the mindless masses nowadays is done out in the open by our mind control system, otherwise known as our education system. Even there it is not due to overt mind control, but merely a result of a market-driven profit system -- the students do not, and will not, pay to learn. Instead they pay to begin a career. The goal is financial security, not education. The road to the goal is to fit in, have fun, network socially and conform, not to study, learn, ask and answer Questions of Life.

The aggression portrayed in the film is random and mindless. To elevate it to rebellion is to pay homage to insanity. To equate it to gang violence is to glorify psychopathy. The force driving the main character is not reasoned purpose, it is not emotional expression, it is not environmental conditioning, it is not directed toward any goal or against any master or for any higher purpose. It is simply rampant sadism. It is unsatiable, unsustainable and unrewarding. The pleasures it provides are fleeting and worthless. The power it gives is petty and transient. The knowledge it bestows is warped and myopic.

The social relevance of this film has been greatly exaggerated by those titillated by the brutality they can never let themselves enjoy as the protagonist. They wish they could do as the main character does, but fear the repercussions or their inability to dominate their victims. So they conceal their degenerate proclivities by claiming the violence in the film is a vehicle for deeper themes -- as if those self-same deeper themes are somehow unintelligble or uninteresting without a good old gang-rape or two. Evil is in all of us, raw and hostile. It is better to acknowledge it than to try to deny it exists. Denial has a way of veiling the mind with ignorance, which only feeds the evil within. In order to conquer the evil within oneself, the evil must first be accepted as having great power over oneself.

Evil is known by many names in order to deny the unrelenting love we have of it, and in psychology evil bears the name psychopathy. To be clear on the nature of psychopathy, and therefore evil, I here include the official Hare's Psychopathy Check List - Revised (PCL-R) (each rated on a scale of 0-2)

Factor 1: Aggressive narcissism

1. Glibness / superficial charm

2. Grandiose sense of self-worth

3. Pathological lying

4. Cunning / manipulative

5. Lack of remorse or guilt

6. Shallow

7. Callous / lack of empathy

8. Failure to accept responsibility for own actions

9. Promiscuous sexual behavior

Factor 2: Socially deviant lifestyle

1. Need for stimulation / proneness to boredom

2. Parasitic lifestyle

3. Poor behavioral control

4. Lack of realistic, long-term goals

5. Impulsivity

6. Irresponsibility

7. Juvenile delinquency

8. Early behavior problems

9. Revocation of conditional release

Traits not correlated with either factor

1. Many short-term marital relationships

2. Criminal versatility

The main character exhibits the extreme of all of these characteristics except the many short-term marital relationships, and that only because the main character is only an adolescent. The main character is undeniably a psychopath, and therefore only worthy of a philosophical discussion regarding the nature of sanity and insanity. That countless philosophical tracts have been published relating how the main character represents a revolt against the State just exhibits an ignorance of reality. Many philosophers are handicapped about the extremes of real life because they are usually pampered pets of Society. No matter how hard philosophers try to make us think otherwise, they do not live the life of the common people. They are, by definition bestowed upon them by university degrees, uncommon people. While it is true there are exceptions to every rule, including this one (Bukowski springs to mind), that does not exclude the babbling majority from this judgment.

The other characters of the film are extreme stereotypical constructs without normal human depth. As such there can be no serious philosophical discussion about them, only cursory philosophical comment. Everyone in the film has emotional or behavioral deficiencies sufficient to warrant professional counseling, some are even psychotic, none have ordinary human depth, but only the main character is a psychopath. In this regard the film has some social relevance, but it is a tired and trite essay on society engineering communities of failed human beings that has been repeated by countless others throughout recorded history.

Additionally, the film relegates the entirety of womanhood to "a bit of the in and out." Women in this film are rabidly objectified. Women are nothing but objects of momentary pleasure and targets of scorn. They are to be violated as a man wills, then discarded. The primary attributes of women in this film are vanity, vacuousness and vaginas. They are ineffectual things that break easily and have no intrinsic worth. Women are seen as weak and stupid. The storyline and the moral of the film would not change if every woman was replaced by blow-up dolls.

While rape and all sorts of violence against women are happily shown by Kubrick, even when unnecessary, the film cowardly refuses to investigate the violence against the main character in prison. This indicates that the brutalization of women in the film has no constructive message. We are not allowed to see the main character treated as he treats women. From what we are shown, his time in prison was a carefree vacation. One inmate blows kisses at him, but otherwise he spends his on-screen time around comical guards and an easily duped preacher. The narration and dialogue indicate this prison is a terrible place, but why? Because of a few blown kisses? Granted, those kisses are a threat, but a threat that never materializes harm. There are far worse things in prison than a few blown kisses. We don't get to see any of the terribleness. Is he beaten and raped? Is he demeaned and belittled? Is he forced to be a victim of every transient whim of someone stronger? Does he lay bloody and broken, naked upon the shower floor? Does he fear to wake up in the morning because the torture will begin all over again? If so, why are we forbidden to see it? That would certainly be an enlightening piece to show us -- more so than anything else in the film. Instead, we have a prison environment where he is kept safe from all violence, and spends his time reading the bible daydreaming his sick thrills, and plotting a con to get out early. This ends up contrasting to the life on the streets where there is no safety for anyone, and he gets to act on his sick impulses willy-nilly. Therefore, the conclusion must be that the main character's flaws are not forged by his environment, that is he wasn't born a healthy individual and his upbringing delinquitized him. Neither is his psychopathy a hereditary mutation to allow for survival in a vicious new society. He is simply pusillanimously insane.

There is some memorable imagery in the film, and the use of characters with a light comedic twist helps juxtapose the horror, but there is no innovation or originality on the director's part. Kubrick is merely following the path written out by Burgess, and using the most common tricks of the trade to put book to film. The movie is competently enacted, and McDowell breathes life into the main character. But he gets no kudos for doing what he's supposed to do. That's his job, and while he did it well it was not a work of art or of genius. A bit of the old leer, is all it was.

The use of music in the film seems, on the surface, to be intriguing. However, this is only because we have been conditioned by countless other movies to equate a jarring cacophonic soundtrack to on-screen violent actions. If there is a spark of ingenuity in this story (as the use of music comes from the book, not a creative fabrication of the director's mind) it is the cognitive dissonance manipulated upon the audience that music so wondrously symphonic as Beethoven's, so light and popular as Freed's, can be so intimately entwined with violence so senseless. That music is powerful, and that music can both implore emotion and charm reason, is not a matter for denial. Neither is it reasonable to argue that music cannot urge violent reaction in the same manner it seduces calm. But that a person can be moved to senseless violence by harmonic beauty is a touch out of the ordinary. But then, that only highlights that the main character is a psychopath, and his emotional and rational Self is truly beyond behavioral understanding.

Following the line of thought regarding the main character as a psychopath, his inherent absurdness does indeed reflect a truly unique being. While this being is without any redeeming social or individual value, he is still philosophically valuable for his singular existence because we can use him as an example in several questions. Do all humans have the right to life? What punishments are ethical? Are deontological ethics valid? Are there basic human responses to external stimuli? Does environment override genetics? Does evil exist, if so what is it? If there is evil does it exist equally in every human, and how powerful is it? Is every human capable of every evil thought and every evil action? Can healthy-minded humans intentionally, willfully, pleasurably, gratefully and remorselessly harm others? What are the limits of entertainment? What is obscenity?

The value of violence in this film, if there is any, is in awakening the oblivious masses to the violence all around us (though the 1962 book is more pertinent to this point than the 1971 film). The post-WWII dream of a peaceful world of law and order is dead. We have to face up to the very human horror that we have engineered a society that degrades the individual. Society is deranged, the individual is deranged, the healers are deranged, the leaders are deranged. That is the only possible moral of this film, and if it is the moral, the film itself must be disturbing in order for its deranged audience to accept the message of their complicit guilt. But the message comes too late or in ineffectual form because the audience never got it. In fact, if there is any message in this film it is that evil ultimately triumphs.

I have to comment on the inclusion of Slavoj Zizek among the philosophical papers made available to us as relevant to this film. Zizek may be as insane as the main character in "Clockwork." Certainly he is of no more value, and considering his position as a widely traveled philosopher-teacher, he may be even more dangerous -- bullshitting, befuddling, and befouling people with his message of hate, violence and self-gratification. He is the perfect philosopher for a "Clockwork" world. He is a Stalinist philosopher, ergo I consider him degenerate, unremorseful and criminally insane.


“Mr. Alcott sat behind his table, and the children were placed in chairs, in a large arc around him; the chairs so far apart, that they could not easily touch each other. He then asked each one separately, what idea he or she had of the purpose of coming to school? To learn; was the first answer. To learn what? By pursuing this question, all the common exercises of school were brought up by the children themselves; and various subjects of art, science, and philosophy. Still Mr. Alcott intimated that this was not all; and at last some one said “to behave well,” and in pursuing this expression into its meanings, they at last decided that they came to learn to feel rightly, to think rightly, and to act rightly.” Elizabeth Palmer Peabody