What is Hollywood, you ask, dear children? A quorum of whores babbling endlessly on about fucking while the bordello is razed for a penny arcade -- Paul Bern

Saturday, August 7, 2010


Far be it for me to single out Richard Brody of the Nueva Yorker, the accursed & despised biographer of JLG, Heidegger of the Cinema, I will be the first to admit that I am not fit to shine his shoes -- perhaps even to shine anyone's shoes. And in any case, the bogus assumptions that litter this piece...


...belong not him in particular but to an entire generation. But there is double plus good crystallization here.

Let this make me a partisan of Maureen Dowd, but if I have to read another half-baked boomerista apology for how THEY saved US from compulsory sexual morality and the oppressive codes of the grey 1950s (what an elastic achievement!) -- forgive me, my friends, but I will go all Jeanne Dielman.

Far be it from me to diminish the artistic achievements of Howard Hawks and Ernst Lubitsch, who are high on my list of cinematic heroes, but it’s worth recalling that their work reflects the effects of social tensions and pressures that, I think, most of us are glad to have escaped. The classic romantic comedies are, among other things, sex comedies without sex. The famous “Lubitsch touch” is the way he puts his finger on things off-screen that he can’t show on-screen, and Hawks’s comedies, with their scintillating and borderline-smutty symbols of unexpressed desires and deeds, let us know precisely what he wasn’t allowed to tell us. Their comedies may have pointed to the prevailing hypocrisies of public life, but they also depended on them, and it’s impossible to take seriously their exquisite, intricate sublimations without considering the restraints to which their art, and all art at the time (remember problems with, say, “Ulysses” or “Lolita”?), was subject.
Their films highlight the gleefully or bitterly honest display of sexual impulses that sometimes join with and sometimes cross up romantic designs—and reflect the concrete situations of the characters (and, for that matter, of the filmmakers) far more frankly than was ever possible in the studios’ heyday. As for elegance, that of Wes Anderson is worthy to be placed alongside that of any of the classics—while at the same time reflecting a creative tension with “the new freedoms” (as the Coen brothers have so precisely and memorably apostrophized them).
They (filmmakers in the era of Classical Hollywood) were all, more or less, lying to us; some of them did better at nudging and winking and letting us know that they knew that we knew that they knew. Sure, there’s less elegance in today’s movies; there’s less elegance in modern life, because the norms of social behavior are far less stringent, and our game faces are, by and large, not so different from the ones we see in the mirror.

What's really at stake here is not ELEGANCE or CENSORSHIP, but an allegiance to a flattened code of realism that masks the eternity that is bourgeois morality. What makes these dusty stories powerful and resilient is that they needed to be completed, articulated and excavated by the audience, which was being taken far more seriously by the artists in question than Brody suspects. To say that one has to embrace these supposedly discarded and repressive ideologies in a kind of nostalgia trip is bald sophistry.

A beautiful artifice is more real than the most authentically banal realism.

In the event that nostalgia exists here, it's for a target rich environment of semes both in the culture at large, a passionate sophistication for de-coding in the audience, and an art object that inflames the desire for the forbidden. Sounds kind of subversive, doesn't it? Brody, in his Freudo-Libertarian Utopia, has forgotten that repression is the key to great art. And that the super-marketing of imaged (fake-authentic) sexuality and violence is a far more effective repressive tool than the old double coded "lies" of Hollywood. But by all means, rock on with Joe Swanberg, dude. I'll stick with Lubitsch.

What else? Looking at the past involves a sort of intellectual honesty that may be incompatible with an ideological belief that things are better than they were before. There is a perpetual delusion that travels bundled with bourgeois culture, particularly if such culture is nominally progressive. Test failed, here and elsewhere.

The mild cancer in the "progressive" ethos is that, insofar as it wants to caricature and play the tedious  'gotcha' game with the past, and wallow in the warm mud of moral self congratulation, it winds up obscuring, in its absurd dogmatic faith that things are any better now, the current inflection of very real, often the exact same, hypocrisies and repressions inherent in our day-to-day existence.

Despite what Brody disingenuously suggests, our "game face" is actually more mercurial, anxious and situational than it ever was. Why? Because the Subject understands that she must frantically produce her authenticity, a burden that we would not normally wish on any person.

Another naivete: Culture is always in its' essence "reactionary". For better or worse, it says let's keep this stuff that we say works. The cultural position is always conservative -- falsely nostalgic for something that was lost/never was. The progressive ethos looks at the society in terms of problems -- it's a technocrat's dream. Problems obviously require a managerial class to render, address (and create) them. It's a Monarchy not based on tradition, but on flux. The advantage of this system is that "progress" in a relative and fluxing frame can't ever be measured, only theorized or expected.

The manufacture and consumption of authenticity is the going concern of the spectacular. 
Realism is the language of that production.

addendum: On the same subject, Wise Elder Glenn Kenny is talking historic modes of production, while slapping down M. Dowd, for the sake of picking over some diminishing pop Kultchural returns.

Klen Genny thinks lubitsch is undead, undead

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