Meta, meta, murder…

June 18, 2015

irene

I just finished this book – not sure whether it’s a “crime novel” or a “mystery”.  Is there a difference?  Anyway, it was well written, very clever and suspenseful.  The characters it presented were good too.  That’s all I have to say about it, other than that the murders it describes are extremely gruesome, but I guess that’s old hat these days, what with Hannibal Lechter, Steven King, and so on.

Well, there’s this too:  the killer in the book is staging his crimes to duplicate murder scenes in books he admires.  He sees himself as some sort of artist.  One of the books, the one with the first murder scene used, is Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho.  Near the end of the book, the author, the real author, not the would-be author who is murdering women, changes the name of a character so that we might think that all the time we have been reading a text written by the murderer and sent to the character in the book who is chasing him, rather than reading a book about a policeman chasing a murderer who sends him texts…  Very meta.

I started reading this sort of book sometime after I started watching film noir, a natural progression I guess.  At first, I read books that were the basis of films I’d seen, but now I’ve expanded my range a bit.  I’m not sure why they are entertaining; certainly it’s not the gore – that just adds to the suspense somehow.

In the Acknowledgements section of the book, after the end, Lemaitre praises the four novels he references in his narrative.  He notes that critics reacted very harshly to Ellis’ book, implying that they are hypocritical for wanting these novels to “exorcise our hyper-violent societies,” while not exceeding the limits of good taste.  I am not sure what he means by this other than that authors should be free to write what they like, and if critics don’t like it, but read it anyway, too bad for them.  As for “hyper-violent,” I don’t know at all what this means.  Compared to what?  Medieval towns with public executions, drawing and quartering, bear baiting in the Elizabethan age?  Mass starvation?  Slavery?  It all sounds very French-Intellectual to me:  I can just hear those academics intoning about the “violence inherent in the system,” as Monty Python put it, and so on.  I think he’s just fascinated by violence and gore, and makes a good living at it.  Better than teaching literature, which is what he used to do.

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Problem of Theory and Practice

September 17, 2013

In the news today:

An argument over the teachings of the philosopher Immanuel Kant between two men standing in line for beer at an outdoor festival in southern Russia ended when one man shot the other in the head with gun loaded with rubber bullets, the state RIA news agency reported on Monday, citing the police. Though the wound was not critical, the attacker faces up to a decade in prison if convicted on assault charges.

BTW, the images of the bandit are from the final sequence (or the first, in some releases) of The Great Train Robbery (1904), a seminal work in the history of film.  It’s pretty darn good, and you can watch it on Youtube.


My home, my castle.

October 24, 2012

In Montana, a 40-year old man was intoxicated, and angry about the affair going on between his wife and his neighbor.  He walked over to the neighbor’s house:  the neighbor knew he was coming.  He had time to go inside and retrieve his gun.  Then he shot the man three times.  No charges will be filed because of the state law allowing a person to use lethal force against anyone on your property who you feel might be threatening you.  The angry man was unarmed.

So, a man is dead, four kids have no father, because a guy was afraid of getting punched in the nose, and didn’t want to suffer the humiliation of just staying inside behind a locked door. 

As one commenter on the story said of our screwed-up thinking about the value of life, “The life of an eight week old fetus is sacred, but the life of a 40-year old father is not worth protecting.”


Poor Nietzsche…

January 12, 2011
What would Raskolnikov do?

The guy can’t catch a break.  He gets associated with all sorts of difficult types.  First, Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, then the Nazis, a colorblind silent adolescent in Little Miss Sunshine, and now, the Tuscon shooter:

The new details from Mr. Gutierrez about Mr. Loughner — including his philosophy of anarchy and his expertise with a handgun, suggest that the earliest signs of behavior that may have ultimately led to the attacks started several years ago.

Mr. Gutierrez said his friend had become obsessed with the meaning of dreams and their importance. He talked about reading Friedrich Nietzsche’s book “The Will To Power” …

from the New York Times   


The good old days!

May 5, 2010

Loved this show as a kid.  Certainly, this is one of the most memorable sequences in popular TV.


Gangs of New York

April 5, 2010

The neighborhood of Five Points, an intersection in lower Manhattan now occupied by the Federal Courthouse and Foley Square, is the setting of Martin Scorsese’s 2002 film, Gangs of New York. Basically a simple revenge tale, it attempts to impart epic stature to the history of rioting, mayhem, and ethnic gangs in NYC of the Civil War era.  The art direction is fantastic, almost too good.  Everything seems just right, too right.  Like a stage set, a movie set.  I wonder, did it really look like this?  I couldn’t shake myself of the feeling that it didn’t, that it was just too good to look at, too interesting to be believable, although I did love the costumes.

Daniel Day Lewis, an actor of amazing intensity, plays Bill Cutting, a Nativist, Know-Nothing, anti-immigrant gang leader who loves  to wreak violent havoc on poor Irish newcomers to America.  (He speaks with a Noo Yawk accent, and you expect him to come out with De Niro’s line from Taxi Driver:  You talkin’ to me?)  He regards himself as a “real American.”  Leonardo Di Caprio plays a young man who witnessed Cutting’s killing of his father during a legendary gang battle that established Cutting’s dominance in the Five Points when he was a young boy.  Sixteen years later the boy, now a man, returns, incognito, for revenge.  He insinuates himself into the good graces of Cutting, tries and fails to kill him, and finally forms a rival Irish gang.  In a final confrontation, he takes his revenge and slices up the killer of his father.  For some critics, this justifies the encomium, Shakespearean.

The movie is another love song to violence and gangs by an incorrigibly romantic director who seems bewitched by the notion that in violence, the essence of our humanity is laid bare.  Why not in gathering nuts to eat, I wonder?  Not so much fun for movie makers.   In the finale, the two gang leaders recognize themselves as having membership in a common tribe, the bounds of which transcend religious bigotry.  Yes, they are both violent thugs, and their world is crushed by the arrival of blue-coated Union troops that put down the draft riots that wracked NYC for five days.  (Largely Irish, the rioters were fueled by resentment that moneyed folks could buy an exemption to the draft for $300.  The history of racial integration in the area was ended when the mobs turned their anger on free blacks and lynched many of them.)  Oh for the days when men were men, killed with axes, knives, and clubs, and were not automatons in well-drilled ranks, with rifles and fixed bayonets. (The gang battles are depicted like confrontations between chivalrous, if brutal knights leading their loyal retainers.)  A few rioters go mad with rage and charge the troops – they are shot to pieces, and their deaths are portrayed as a martyrdom.

In the end, we are shown the graves of Cutting and the boy’s father, “Priest” Vallon, side by side, sharing a view of the Brooklyn Bridge.  Vague noises are made about how such people gave birth to our fair city.  Well, they were a part of its history, perhaps a forgotten part, as the narration says, but they no more built the city by thieving, brawling, whoring, and murdering than did Boss Tweed by perfecting his political machine and his “honest” grand larceny.  Or they all did, with a lot of others.  But preoccupied with the world-view of turf-obsessed thugs, Scorsese seems to believe that gangs like the Dead Rabbits and The Bowery Boys were, as the Marxists like to say of the proletariat, the true object of history.


Class conflict, anyone?

February 23, 2010

Two women, two misfits, two people with something shady in their past lives.  The maid (Sandrine Bonnaire) cannot read, and is intensely ashamed of it.  She makes herself into a cipher so as not to be found out, but there’s something terrible bubbling beneath, and a criminal deed in her past…maybe.  They couldn’t prove anything.    The postal clerk (Isabelle Huppert) seems to never have been properly socialized – she’s just this side of out of control.  Did she kill her young child by abusing her?  The judge said there was no proof. They fall in with one another, recognizing each other as soul mates, and form a Platonic bond.  Together, their resentment of the local patron, the maid’s employer, and his comfortable bourgeois family becomes something terrible.

Claude Chabrol jokingly called his film La cérémonie, made in 1995,   “the last Marxist film.”  Some of his fans could learn something from his sense of humor.  Consider this exceprt from a review that insists on extracting a class-conscious moral from the story:

In La cérémonie, the characters’ latent sexualities may insidiously be equated with evil, but this evil remains immeasurably more moral than the hypocritical and hierarchical society it attacks.

Chabrol is certainly intensely aware of class divisions, and he weaves  them with great effect into this chilling tale, but his vision is nuanced and subtle rather a simple conflict or classes and relative immoralities.

The title of the film is slang for being lead to the guillotine for execution, a state ritual of justice, adding a further touch of irony and ambiguity as the film moves with heavy stateliness towards its blood spattered conclusion.  The force that drives the violence is not ideology, but evil and happenstance.   The massacre is a crazy stunt that gets out of hand, or maybe it was inevitable, but that is taken in stride once it comes about.  Surveying the bodies, Huppert’s character says, “That’s well done.”  “You know what to do now.  Call the police and say you found them like that. They won’t be able to prove anything.”  The state doesn’t protect the good bourgeoisie from these looneys any more than it protects workers from the predatory owning class.

And what of this bourgois family?  They’re not a bad lot.  They are fair.  They pay well.  They are very loving to one another.  Maybe a bit full of themselves and a bit too used to their great advantages, but not a bad lot after all.  They certainly don’t want to hurt anyone.   Is this hypocrisy?  Does the fact that the father owns the local factory make him a ruthless exploiter?  Nothing would indicate that.  He is almost the ideal bourgeois.  It’s true, however, that servants can be such a pain in the neck!  And they definitely should know their place.

This theme of the bourgeoisie is such a terribly important theme in European culture that it can be puzzling for an American.  Here, everyone is middle-class.  Of course, bourgeois is more than a term for a group with a certain income:  it has very deep and wide connotations in Europe.  They are on full display in La cérémonie.

Another film also intensely involved with class dissection is Bernardo Bertulluci’s Before the Revolution of 1964.  I thought I detected an homage or allusion to that film in this sequence from Chabrol’s:

During a party, the young girl passionately makes out with her boyfriend – the camera pans away to the next room where the boring chit chat among les adultes continues.

In Before the Revolution, pop music blares from the radio, the old man leaves with his newspaper:  Let’s dance, shall we?Ah, look – she’s asleep!

The man and the woman in the extremely sexy passage are aunt and nephew:  after all, the movie is very loosely based on Stendhal’s novel, The Charterhouse of Parma.