Revolutions, Large and Small

April 30, 2015

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The Russian Revolution, and the Italian Risorgimento:  two different revolutions.  One, cataclysmic; one, not so much. Transforming Russia from a backward agrarian society into a totalitarian industrial giant.  Transforming the Italian peninsula from a motley of states into a unified “modern” nation.  I indulged my abiding interest in Josef Stalin by watching The Inner Circle (1991) by Andrei Konchalovsky, and I’m prepping for a trip to the Piedmont region of Italy, where The Risorgimento originated, by watching Visconti’s The Leopard (1963) again, and re-reading the novel by Lampedusa on which it is based.

Konchalovsky, who was quite successful within the Soviet cinema world, relates that he offered a bottle of brandy to a projectionist if the man would tell him the opinions of the state censors for whom he was screening his latest film.  The man revealed that he had lots of stories to tell about what Stalin used to say about films!  He was the Kremlin projectionist for years:  Konchalovsky was ready to listen, and The Inner Circle is the story of this Kremlin functionary.

The film has some odd things about it, including a score that seems to grow loud and sentimental at the worst moments, and the fact that all the dialog is in English spoken with Russian accents.  Seems a bit hokey at times.  The problem of subtitles and translation was handled more creatively in The Hunt for Red October, about the only good thing I recall from that film.  Tom Hulce plays the projectionist, and he holds onto his pure country-bumpkin good-Ivan characterization a bit too long, but to anyone familiar with Russian history, he’s still believable.

There is a scene where the film breaks during a screening for Stalin, and the projectionist explains that the projector is a poor copy of an excellent German machine – the head of the Cinema Bureau, responsible for these  things, is standing right there – and has an inferior spring part that caused the break.  Stalin uses the incident to indulge his sadistic bent, lightly bandying with the bureau chief who is sweating profusely, while Beria – head of the secret police – notes sarcastically that someone wasn’t doing their duty.  This is the sort of thing that can end with a bullet to the head administered some random dead of night.  It’s a chilling set-piece of Stalin’s daily modus operandi.  If you want a sense of the brutal moral degradation imposed on the Soviet citizenry by Stalin, apart from the mass murder itself, this is not a bad film to see.

Meanwhile, back in Sicily, The Prince is speaking dubbed Italian in Visconti’s adaptation of The Leopard.  Panned at first, it is now highly rated:  Martin Scorsese, not surprisingly, rates it among the greatest of all films.  Why no surprise?  Because Scorsese, as one critic noted, is no great sociologist, and naturally he is entranced by Visconti’s lush nostalgia for a period of elegance decayed.

Starting to read the novel again, I noted right away that the author’s tone is sharper, more harsh, than the elegiac sentiment of Visconti.  The film is an aesthetic response to the politics of the Risorgimento.  You can say that Visconti was a Marxist (he joined the Communist Party after WWII) but how much of one could he be having made this film?  He loves those aristocrats, their clothes, their nobless oblige, and he loathes the upstart middle class.  He was, of course, the scion of a hugely important Italian aristocratic clan.  And in the end, the film is an adaptation, not a copy of the book – he chooses to emphasize the theme of the Prince dealing with his own mortality, as well as the end of his era, a more personal story. A fine film, a wee bit too long, and I think his talents were better suited for Senso.

The Leopard is often referred to as Italy’s “Gone With The Wind,” a comparison that is an insult to Visconti’s considerable talents and highly developed sensibility.

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Dream Sequence: Ivan meets Joe

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Dream Couple: Delon and Cardinale


Instinct and the Power-Elite

September 12, 2013


A news item in the NYTimes today quoted Joe Lhota, Republican candidate for mayor of New York:

Mr. Lhota said that Mr. de Blasio’s “knee-jerk response to any new program is to raise taxes,” an approach he said was “instinctively wrong.” Instead, Mr. Lhota said the mayor should look to find efficiencies in the city’s budget.

Ah…you can’t make this stuff up.  A “knee-jerk” response to increase revenue is bad, but cutting the budget is obviously good, especially since he and his friends will not even feel it.  But how does he know this for a fact?  Raising taxes is “instinctively wrong.”  Might we say that Mr. Lhota has a knee-jerk response to tax hikes on the wealthy?  Sure seems like it.  It’s just pure instinct.

Of course, Mr. Lhota’s response to increased taxes for the wealthy may be instinct only among his social circle, so it is probably a learned response, with no instinct involved at all, but it sure seems like a reflex!

The article also includes this:

He mounted a direct attack on Mr. de Blasio’s “tale of two cities” campaign theme, saying that Mr. de Blasio was trying to “separate classes” as a political strategy.

“Calling it a tale of two cities, that level of invective has no place in any campaign, at all,” Mr. Lhota said. “It divides people. What we really need to do is to work together and provide a solution, not separating people and then saying that the ends justify the means.”

I would like to know what level of invective is appropriate in a campaign according to Mr. Lhota?  Tale of two cities seems rather tame to me.   By all means, let’s work together to raise taxes on Mr. Lhota.


Thank you again, Mr. Romney!

September 18, 2012

 

Once again, Mitt Romney tells it like it is!  Could we ask for a better statement of the views of the power elite than his flippant dismissal of 47% of the United States population as self-victimized freeloaders on the government?  Never mind the facts, which have been rehearsed, to his detriment, ad infinitum, in the news, but he has clearly told us what the mental picture of the land is in the hearts and minds of his monied donors.  (And those that give to the Democrats, too, probably!) 

And as for that other 53%?  I’m sure he knows that it is only that top sliver that does any real productive work, making jobs (disappear) and making piles of money, and the like.  Everyone else is just the hired help.  What a guy!  You gotta love ’em!

Uh…but these latest remarks sort of contradict the ones quoted in the earlier post.  No matter, it’s always 1984 somewhere!


Great Expectations Dashed

February 26, 2012

I read Great Expectations with great pleasure in junior high school, and in high school, I watched the David Lean adaptation of it – only the first part stayed with me.  I just finished the novel for the second or third time, and started to watch the film again, but lost interest after Pip goes to London.  The early part of the film does a wonderful job at representing the weirdness of Miss Havisham, the marsh country, the terror of the escaped convicts, the tortured soul of a simple boy.

Should we like Pip?  He berates himself for his ingratitude to Joe, his adopted father, and Biddy, the simple girl he could love.  He kicks himself for longing for the ice-queen, Estella.  He excoriates himself for his desire to climb socially, and for being ashamed of his humble origins.  I can’t fault him too much – he is too aware of his failings, and they are all portrayed in retrospect.  What can we say but that he was a young boy, immature, and sometimes thoughtless.  Would that we were all so wise about our limitations.

The book is called dark, and so it is.  Even the happier ending that was substituted for the original one is not all that happy:  there is a hope of emotional fulfillment for Pip and Estella, but it is melancholy too.  And the thunderbolt that falls on Pip when he returns home, his great expectations in ruins, hoping to turn over a new leaf and propose marriage to Biddy, completely destroys any prideful self-delusions he has left.

Lets say, at least, that Pip learns from his mistakes.


Romney gets it right!

February 4, 2012

Well, sort of.  I was pleased to read this recent statement by the great white hope of the Republicans, my emphasis:

“I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich. They’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America — the 90-95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”

As Charles M. Blow of the Times notes, he went on to say that his campaign was focused on “middle-income Americans” and that “we have a very ample safety net” for the poor.

Wow!  Confirmation from the lead Republican candidate for my historical-sociological analysis of the American way of ‘middle-class!’  Maybe Romney is reading my blog!

See this post:  Who Rules America?


Obama Seeks to Win Back Wall St. Cash

June 13, 2011

The post’s title is the headline of a NYTimes article today.  In case you are wondering why the reign of the Bankers and Rentiers seems so secure.  The President and the Congress seem as one on this point.  No change you can believe in.

Alas, poor suckling public servants, sometimes there are more pigs than teats!


Class Warfare

December 9, 2010

Click on the comic above to see it full size – it’s more true than funny.  Since Reagan, the Republicans have been leading an effort to shift wealth to the upper 2% of the income strata in the USA, and to shift the burden of paying for that shift, and the rest of what government does, to everyone else.  Naturally, the “middle class” gets hit the worst because they have jobs and steady incomes from which to pay taxes.  (I use that term in the good ole American sense of anyone making less than $250,000 a year.) 

Bad as it is, there is a humorous side to it.  How else to react to the twin efforts by the Republicans this week to deny health coverage to the 9/11 rescue workers – they are concerned about how to pay for the $7.4 billion – and to lock in the GWB tax cuts for the wealthy for another two years, not to mention the loosening of the estate tax.  The cost of the first tax item alone is about $900.0 billion.  Balanced budget anyone?

And why are we at this juncture?   Our president tells us that liberals don’t have realistic expectations about what can be accomplished.  This may be true – the game was lost a long time ago, before the 2010 election.  Why wasn’t Obama on the warpath about these topics for the last two years?  All that anger in the Tea Party and fellow travellers could just as easily have switched targets from him to the bankers and coupon-clippers.

I think that fundamentally Obama, and most Dem legislators, don’t grasp the concepts of power and class.  It’s quite simple:  people with lots of money and power want to keep it.  They don’t really care if social problems are solved or not as long as their status isn’t infringed.  They may back irrational policies, but that’s okay.  If the works get gummed up, so much the better.  The more stupid government looks, the better.  They can always lobby their senators for a free corporate plum later, and in secret.  The Party of No works just fine in this case.  They can rail against government spending while they shovel money to their friends and not be troubled by the contradiction – there is no contradiction.  The overall goal is being met.

This sort of talk is taboo in mainstream American political discourse, so it’s not surprising Obama doesn’t shout about it.  Sure, he talks about “special interests”, but Unions get lumped in that group.  Senior citizens too.  As if they are all equal.  Obama always said he wasn’t a liberal, and he was being honest.  He’s very mainstream.  He never sought to build a political base for a counter-assault to the Republican class war which is why it’s too late now.  That would have been “business as usual in Washington…”