Showing posts with label Stanley Kubrick. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stanley Kubrick. Show all posts

Monday, March 6, 2017


   The writer hereby speculates that we were not necessarily intended to like the movie Lolita (1962). That is not to say that director Stanley Kubrick (who only used twenty percent of novelist Vladimir Nabokov's adapted screenplay and wrote the rest himself) did not want us to enjoy the movie. I mean that he did not intend for us to approve of it. The only people Kubrick hoped would approve of it were the Catholic Legion of Decency and the souls behind the Hayes Code. It is fair to say that neither group had the director on their Christmas list, but the movie was released with the consent of the Production Code of America, in large part because producer James Harris and Kubrick worked with the director of the PCA, Geoffrey Shurlock. Kubrick tried his damnedest to convince Shurlock that this movie about pedophilia was no such thing. It was actually a dark and smart comedy that poked fun at a middle-aged professor's fascination with a young girl. 
   Shurlock was not immediately convinced. 
   Kubrick upped the young girl from twelve to fourteen and made sure his casting director, James Liggat, gave the title role to a relative unknown, in this case a seventeen-year-old named Sue Lyon. He also made certain that the role of the curious professor, Humbert Humbert, went to an actor whose career was in decline, in this case, to James Mason. (Granted, the other actors Kubrick wanted all turned him down--David Niven, Rex Harrison and Noel Coward among them). Casting Peter Sellers in the role of Clare Quilty was expected to take the edge off as well.
   But what really got the film into the theaters was the tone of the movie. Instead of Humbert and Lolita doing the nasty under the sheets, the sexuality was rather more implied and that is one of the reasons why, despite not approving of the movie--even after fifty-five years--we can at least like it. In fact, that is one of the reasons the genius of Lolita endures. 
   When we meet the young Dolores (Lolita), she is tanning in the backyard in a bikini. Humbert rents a room from the girl's mother, Charlotte (Shelley Winters). To be close to Lolita, Humbert pretends to care for Charlotte. But being the academic type, he cannot help but write the truth of his feelings in his diary. When Charlotte discovers how Humbert actually feels, she runs out into the street where she meets with a prompt demise. 
   The closer Humbert gets to Lolita--and her attempts at flirtation early on suggest that she has been to the movies a few times herself--the more she is compelled to manipulate him without giving him precisely what she believes he wants. He has custody of the child and when she behaves as a girl of her temptations reasonably might, Humbert writhes with visible and expressed jealousy. 
   Depending upon one's own personal chemistry, one might find Lolita's rebuffing to be exactly what the oldster has coming. One might also feel a bit of pity for the professor. It is unlikely one would feel both, at least simultaneously. 
   It is only once we recognize the danger that the long-lingering playwright Quilty presents to Lolita that we begin to reluctantly join motivation with Humbert. But even then we risk being taken in by the charm that Sellers brings to his character. When Humbert arrives at Quilty's house with the intent of murdering him, Humbert demands to know for certain if this strange fellow is in fact Quilty. Sellers replies, "No, I'm Spartacus. You come to free the slaves?" (Two years earlier Kubrick had directed the film Spartacus.)
   Our allegiances are never solid. They cannot be because the story keeps shifting us until we begin to sense that this is not a comedy--dark or otherwise. This is a classic tragedy lacking only a hero to provide catharsis. 
   Although Lolita was technically Kubrick's fifth feature-length film (preceded by Killer's Kiss, The Killing, Paths of Glory and Spartacus), this was the first time the director used his tremendous talents to affect what I have referred to elsewhere as a Stanley Milgram type of audience manipulation. By dazzling us with directorial expertise, he establishes his authority just as Milgram's instructors established theirs with white lab coats. Instead of telling us "The experiment must continue," Kubrick tells us, "You must see what happens next."
   Just as with Milgram's subjects, once we become slowly aware that this was an experiment--only a movie--we feel even more wrecked than we did when we allowed ourselves to believe it was happening. When Milgram's "teachers" believed they were shocking the "learners" with high voltage electricity, they did so because following orders gave them more comfort than refusing to do so would have. When we see that what Humbert feels for Lolita is more love than lust, we gain an insight that is every bit as disturbing as Milgram's revelations.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


People can misinterpret almost anything so that it coincides with views they already hold.
                    --Stanley Kubrick

As a practising film freak, I find that one of the few but treasured body-shaking mind-melting soul-shattering thrills of this life blasts through the solar plexus of the solar system when I bounce across someone who is of a younger variety than myself and who nevertheless finds him or herself enthralled with movies from my youth with the same enthusiasm that a bipolar methamphetamine addict might bring to a sex orgy. In other words, when some youngster comes over to pour through the DVD collection, hesitates over The Third Man, looks inquiringly at Vertigo, ponders a moment as he or she handles the jewel box of Apocalypse Now, and then sets aside The Shining, turns to me and says, "Hey, uh, what's this one about?" The truth of the matter is that I've met three people between the ages of seventeen and twenty for whom The Shining is their all-time favorite motion picture. 
   When I told my friend Jim, way back in 1980, that I was going with my friend Sandy to watch The Shining, he told me: "The opening shot where the camera follows the car up the mountain has twenty-six references to Jungian psychology." I had no idea what he was talking about. That was then. Now I am older and much wiser. And I still don't get it. Funny enough, I've read several interviews with Kubrick about this movie and although he always mentions that glorious opening sequence, not once did he say anything about Freud's fallen angel.
    The Shining is not my all-time favorite motion picture. It is, however, a movie worthy of watching for fun, fear and fascination. Stanley Kubrick, the movie's director, was one smart cookie. He certainly was not above utilizing a bit of the old symbolism in his images. He was also quite adept at placing all sorts of funny stuff in the margins of his films, as anyone who has read the instructions for the Zero Gravity Toilet in 2001: A Space Odyssey can attest. 
2001 A Space Odyssey
     Think about it a moment. You're busy building this for your movie--
--something that takes months of meticulous and tedious effort, yet you have the presence of mind and the uncontrollable wit to create instructions for your outer space bathroom. Just amazing.
   Because Kubrick had that kind of mind, his art occasionally lent itself to some moderately far out theorizing by enterprising film students, conspiracy buffs, and bored yet horny professorial types with bigger film collections than brain cells. 
   That brings us with a certain cheerful trepidation to our review of the 2012 documentary Room 237.
   If it never occurred to you that Stanley Kubrick had been employed by NASA to help fake the Apollo 11 moon landing and that The Shining was his mea culpa of that act, then listen up, bucko, because apparently we have all been living under a shadow of ignorance. If we had been paying proper attention, we would certainly have noticed that in the scene where Danny--the child of Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall in The Shining--gets lulled into going into the mysterious Room 237, the kid is actually wearing an Apollo 11 sweatshirt. Yes! That could be dismissed, I suppose, as some kind of world class coincidence. But wait just a minute, tiger. Why did Kubrick change the room number from 217--which is what it was in the Stephen King novel--to 237? There can only be one iron clad cause. The average distance between the earth and the moon is 237,000 miles. Uh-huh! And you thought that was just a continuity glitch, didn't ya? Huh? You think maybe he should have made the room number 237,000? Well, I know that hotel was big and had a lot of rooms, but there's such a thing as verisimilitude, remember.
The Shining

   Of course, director Rodney Ascher wouldn't base an entire documentary around just one theory. No! He culls together some vibrant and exciting images--many of them either quite discreet or else unintentional--alongside some (probably) whackadoo suggestions as to meaning. See, I thought The Shining was a movie about a kid named Danny who possessed a prescience activated by a combination of child abuse and anxiety over relocating. That prescience involves his father Jack getting a job as caretaker for the Overlook Hotel (conveniently called The Stanley in real life), moving the family into the hotel and the ultimate discovery that "You have always been the caretaker, Mr. Torrance." I have also always believed that Kubrick's genius, if you want to call it that, was in manipulating the audience to pull for the bad guy, Jack Torrance, and against the good woman, Wendy, with the kid Danny being the more or less boring instrument in between the two. Jack gets all the good shots, the funny lines, the strength and power. Wendy is made to come across as undesirable and impotent. That kind of audience coercion happens in a lot of Kubrick movies and it was no big surprise in this one. (Stanley Kubrick himself--and one supposes he should know--viewed the Wendy Torrance character very differently. He said: "Shelley seemed to be exactly the kind of woman that would marry Jack and be stuck with him. The wonderful thing about Shelley is her eccentric quality -- the way she talks, the way she moves, the way her nervous system is put together.")
   Wellee wellee wellee well. It turns out I don't know shit from shinola. It seems that the real vision of this film was an exculpation of the Indo-European man's guilt at the genocide of the American Indian. Early on, the manager of the hotel tells Jack and Wendy that the hotel has been built over an old Indian burial ground. But once we get inside the pantry, Scatman Crothers talks to Wendy and Danny about where the various food stuffs are and sure enough, right behind Scatman's bald old head there's a container of Calumet baking powder.
   You know and I know what that means. Actually, you might know, but I don't have a clue. That's okay. Becoming more confused than you were before you watched Room 237 is half the fun. 
   The truth is that this movie actually does bring up some very interesting trivia, such as the fact that the magazine that Nicholson is reading in the hotel while having lunch is a Playgirl. Or that the color of the German typewriter he uses to write his All Work and No Play manuscript changes color several times in the film. Or that during the scene where Wendy goes into the typing room to talk to Jack, a chair behind Nicholson is there half the time and gone the other half. Oh! And we even find out that Kubrick knew in advance that Stephen King wasn't going to like the movie so instead of having the Torrance family drive to the Overlook in a red VW Beetle, Kubrick puts them in a yellow bug, but later on, when Mr. Halloran comes to rescue them, he drives by a semi that has crushed a red VW Beetle, which obviously was the director's way of telling the writer what the one thought of the other--or something. 
   Except for some people quite rightly feeling a bit ripped off at paying to see a movie that is so obviously a sham that the word "camp" does not even begin to scratch the epidermis, there's very little about Room 237 that's worth getting outraged about. If anything, the minutiae might entice people to go back and rewatch a lot of art movies with an eye toward continuity glitches versus deliberate muckery. To that end, the only thing that the makers of this film get across is the suggestion that Kubrick was too much of a perfectionist for some of these things to have simply "happened." I don't have a response to that. Then again, I did not purport to make a documentary about The Shining. Had I done so, I might have at least made an attempt to contact the Kubrick Estate. Or they might have at least bothered to read through the old interviews Kubrick gave about his movie. Had they done this, they might have come upon a far more interesting subject, which is why do most of the adaptations of Stephen King novels into movies typically suck dead dongs, while The Shining (and Carrie and Silver Bullet and maybe The Green Mile and certainly Shawshank Redemption, which was a novella) was such a masterpiece. Had the director done his homework, he would have unearthed such fascinating Kubrick quotes as: "It is in the pruning down phase that the undoing of great novels usually occurs because so much of what is good about them has to do with the fineness of the writing, the insight of the author and often the density of the story. But The Shining was a different matter. Its virtues lay almost entirely in the plot, and it didn't prove to be very much of a problem to adapt it into the screenplay form." Kubrick goes on to make it clear that he never considered the novel to be any kind of art at all, certainly not high literature, and so he had no compunctions whatsoever in redirecting, as it were, the emphasis of the story, and in the process, pissing the shit out of quite a few King fans. 
   But he never once copped to helping NASA fake the moon landing. Damn.

   "Part of my problem is that I cannot dispel the myths that have somehow accumulated over the years. Somebody writes something, it's completely off the wall, but it gets filed and repeated until everyone believes it."
     --Stanley Kubrick

Monday, January 7, 2013


   The American poet Robert Frost wrote "I never dared to be radical when I was young for fear it would make me conservative when I was old."
   That sentiment holds true for the finest horror movies. The most frightening movie of all time, of course, is the original Tobe Hooper-directed Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Probably the most "beautiful," if that's the word, is Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. But the best of all--best in the sense that it's both terrifying and leaves us weak with its inevitability--is Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968). We can debate all night about the different conceptions of value in a film. I think values, the plural, is far more instructive. And the values of the finest horror movies tend to be staunchly conservative, at least in the social sense of that term. You can take a piece of propagandistic, misogynist dreck like The Exorcist and put it in your pipe. There's a big difference between conservative and reactionary. Rosemary's Baby fits in the glorious tradition of suggesting that all these newfangled DEE-vices like yer danged colored TEE-vee and pills fer all yer ills are among the sources of our societal decay. If Guy Woodhouse hadn't wanted to make it big in Hollywood and leave his Nebraska roots, then none of this devil-worshiping nonsense would've ever fallen upon him and his poor bride Rosemary wouldn't have spawned the son of Satan. 
    The only problem with that theory is that Rosemary is the perfect conservative wife of 1968. She had no ambitions outside the home. Her husband took her away from all her young pot smoking friends and locked her up with a very old crowd where she could immerse herself in all kinds of stimulating activities like playing Scrabble and drinking Tannis Root (which did not exist outside Ira Levin's novel and/or Polanski's screenplay, so don't waste your time trying to find it in your neighborhood wicken store). Indeed, it is only when she rejects the machinations of her husband and his odd friends that we feel she has any chance at all of getting out of this pickle. (One of the curious things about life imitating art occurred during the filming when new husband Frank Sinatra told new wife Mia Farrow--Rosemary--that she needed to wrap up her work in this movie PDQ or else the marriage was over. She completed the film according to the director's schedule rather than that of her husband. Frank filed for divorce). 
    There is something else about this move that I think bears mentioning. I mean, hey, I could tell you that Roman Polanski created an intro aerial shot that is so fantastic that you hardly even consider just how impossible it must have been, or how he purposely gave away the plot so the audience would be forced to obsess on how Rosemary might get out of the mess rather than worry about surprising us, the way Levin did in his novel. I could even tell you the trivia that the apartment building where the film takes place is the Dakota, where John Lennon was living when he was murdered, or that the Time magazine cover story really did exist, or that there were all sorts of clues in the movie that happen so fast they're easy to miss, such as when at the New Year's Eve party someone shouts out that this is Year One without explanation, or that Anton LaVey played the role of the devil. But what I'd rather share with you is this:
   When we watch the early scene where Rosemary and Guy (John Cassavetes) meet Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman Castevet (Sidney Blackmer), someone mentions that the Pope is coming to America and Roman goes off on a bit of a tangent about the ridiculousness of all the supposed theatrical elements of the Pope's appearance. He scoffs with an intellectual flair at the pomp and circumstance of the Pope's arrival. The reason I find this exchange interesting is because there is a difference between people who have, let's say, an intellectual or even moral struggle accepting the existence of God and, on the other hand, people who simply hate religion on specific principle and God in general. The Roman Castevet character is clearly of the latter persuasion and I think his character bears close watching in the movie not only because Blackmer is so very very good with the role but because the type of man Castevet is unfortunately feels all too common. Hold on tight, kiddies, the radical fire-breather is about to say something a tad conservative. You may want to mark this date in your diaries. Okay: I have no use whatsoever for people who make a big deal out of rejecting religion altogether. I wrote a piece several months back about how annoyed I get with the unthinking absolutism of certain atheists and I was met with a vituperation of responses culminating in one young man who expressed his feelings in two words, the first a vulgar euphemism for fornication and the second the name God itself. His use of language did not scare me. What scared me was the sense of abandon with which he threw away his brain. 
    Look. I'm agnostic. I have been since I was around seventeen. Who cares? What matters is that in my case the term means that I feel the existence of many things, including that of a God or Gods, is something that is not knowable in the way that we understand epistemology today. In my case it is also a political position because I suspect that anything that allows me to look forward to a future existence of happiness will discourage me from struggling for justice while I'm alive. What bugs me greatly is people for whom any faith necessarily equates with a form of stupidity. The connection between belief in the abstract and ignorance may or may not exist. But I see no evidence that one causes the other. Osama bin Ladin was a fundamentalist. Timothy McVeigh was a fundamentalist. The Muslim religion should not be rejected on the basis of the practices of one very nasty man any more than the Christian religion should be rejected because of the behavior of another. If the manners and practices of an adherent are to be the measure of the value of a given belief system, then there's not a religion I've heard of that can stand up on its own legs. 
    The funny thing is that these intelligent folks who ridicule all matters of faith know that it is intellectually inconsistent to judge a philosophy by the actions of the supplicants. But they do it anyway. They point to a professional loser such as Terry Jones who decided it would be great fun to burn the Koran and they say "Whoa, hey! That's what religion will do for you!"And they do it anyway because they aren't actually all that interested in the truth of a given situation. They're simply interested in spreading a bit more nastiness in the world. Religion can be so damned inconvenient. I mean, heck, if more people went to church or stayed home and watched it on TV or spent time doing something besides buying a bunch of crap for which they have no Godly purpose, what oh what would ever happen to our scared economy? Right. 
    Now if you want to tell me, for instance, that the Bible is full of all sorts of contradictions, I will tell you that you are correct. The first four of the five books known as the Gospels of the New Testament themselves all tell considerably different versions of the life and death and aftermath of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul was something of a woman hater. The Revelation of St John the Divine reads like an acid trip. And the Old Testament may be full of grand drama, but it does have its share of inconsistencies as well, not the least of which being how many of each animal Noah took onto the Ark. So if you like you may treat it as fiction and have a good laugh. But the hard thing to admit is that there is some considerably good advice in the book. That was something I first thought about when I read the words of Jubal in Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land and it holds true, I think. Don't commit murder sounds reasonable enough. Don't bear false witness is good advice. But for super human platitudes, you cannot top one from the New Testament, where Christ is crucified and he knows he can wipe out the Romans with the blink of an eye--within the context of the story--and instead of that he talks to God and says, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." 
    You do not have to be religious or spiritual or cosmic to be blown away by that statement. In fact, it's the perfect social scientific humanist admonition. Free will enthusiast or deterministic--it doesn't matter. The meaning is that systems rather than people are the problem. Smug cynicism au currant notwithstanding, the idea that love really does conquer all may or may not be true, but what the hell is wrong with believing it? 
    So Rosemary's Baby is a great movie. It's right up there with Cul de Sac and Chinatown in the Polanski pantheon. It is also an extremely moral movie, no matter what the whack jobs on either end of the politico-religious spectrum tell you. It is that rarest of things that suggests with amazing subtlety that many of us make compromises that end up being sacrifices of the very things we claimed to love: our spouses, our children, our own futures. 
    It'll also scare you silly. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012


John Malkovich
    Stars: four of five.
    One of the funniest lines I've heard in some time was uttered in a strangely touching comedy called Color Me Kubrick (2005). The line is delivered by one Alan Conway, a fellow who is impersonating director Stanley Kubrick. The fellow is bemoaning the insipidness of which he imagines Hollywood to be rife and says "The studio didn't think John Malkovich could carry the film." The reason this line evokes such a gut-warbling guffaw is that the actor saying the line is Mr. Malkovich himself. 
     Part of the irony spins on the fact that chances are pretty good you've not heard of this excellent film, just as chances are excellent that you do not know the story behind it, a condition that says very little about you personally but which speaks with terrible clarity about the condition of the popular media itself. Even the metal-heads and roustabouts in this movie know who Stanley Kubrick is--or was, now. Indeed, they know a great deal more about him than does Mr. Conway, the man who in real life went about during the filming of Kubrick's final film, Eyes Wide Shut, impersonating the director in order to get the believers to pay for his lifestyle, one that includes substantial amounts of vodka, a contributing factor to Conway's ultimate demise. 
    Written by Anthony Frewin and directed by Brian W. Cook, Color Me Kubrick utilizes many of Kubrick's own devices to give us the giggles, although the laughter is probably reserved for those in the crowd familiar with the man's work. So, for instance, in the opening scene, we have a couple punk boys in the employ of a bar rounding a corner to the strains of music we recall from A Clockwork Orange, a music which has conditioned us to expect trouble. Sure enough, the boys are headed off to potentially commit some horrible ultra violence against an upper class couple. "I wonder who that could be?" the society man inquires of his wife at the ring of the doorbell. In other words, this devilish little comedy is simply chock full of self-referential bits that, again, will squeeze laughing fits from fans of the late auteur and should even woo the novices into checking out some of the director's great film. You know, like The Shining, Lolita, Spartacus, Judgment at Nuremberg. Pardon me? What's that? You say Kubrick did not direct Judgment at Nuremberg? You say that was Stanley Kramer who did it? Well, one can't be expected to know everything, now can one, especially since Conway didn't know it either and blew a gig when he was hitting on a gay young man who actually did know it. 
    Is Conway crazy? I don't think so. He did manage to get himself locked up in lieu of going to jail for his fraudulent activities. Indeed, he left the mental institution to go dry out at a nice resort-like facility frequented by the likes of actors and rock stars. He tells his boyfriend it's all an act to stay out of the slams. But we aren't certain. We remain unconvinced in part because Malkovich does carry the film so well that the ambiguity trembles on the vine. By the time we near the end, we're not even certain the man is gay, much less that he didn't have the whole thing planned from the start. Still, we don't want any harm coming to this phony because we keep getting hints that the real Conway does not much like himself and has adopted his felonious lifestyle for just that reason. If his masquerade comes undone, the reality of his life may be a bit more than he can bear and his tentative hold on reality may tumble and crash. 
    We would not like that.
    Funny enough, about eight years ago I found myself in a similar situation. I had gone through a tremendous amount of money in an attempt to avoid coming to grips with the death of my loved ones and one day found myself with two nostrils filled with dried cocaine residue, a liver throbbing from alcohol abuse, and skin that more than anything else needed a touch of a suntan. I drove a car I had reported stolen to get the insurance money from Arizona to Ohio where I ingratiated myself among a group of people who believed me to be a psychiatrist. Fooling them was easy because they were actual psychiatrists themselves and they found my narcissistic personality to be quite appropriate to the occupation. I maintained this little masquerade for six weeks and was only revealed for a liar due to my unfortunate habit of talking in my sleep, no doubt the remnants of a guilty conscience. I share this bit of personal experience because (a) I think it's time to come clean about it, lo these many years, and (b) because even though I admit I took matters to more than an extreme, I certainly conned no one out of any money but rather simply occupied myself with the intellectual discussions that I probably would have never encountered had I actually been what I pretended to be. 
    I think Alan Conway may have been after something similar. Granted, he knew very little about the real Kubrick and looked almost nothing like the man. However, I suspect he was simply lonely and figured that people would like him if he were famous, which they did. 
    I told you it was a touching comedy. 
Color Me Kubrick

    As if to make up for the disappointing documentary about certain screenwriters, Tales from the Script, we certainly found some needed luck today when we came upon the unimaginably titled yet aptly named film Great Directors (2009). Director, actor and writer Angela Ismailos, a former political science graduate student and exciting filmmaker, pulls together interviews she conducted with some genuinely fascinating movie directors who indeed deserve the adjective "great." She talks with Bertolucci, Lynch, Cavani, Breillat, Sayles, Stephen Frears, Agnes Varda, Ken Loach, Todd Haybes and Richard Linklater. These men and women are not the people who direct the latest throw in some idiot franchise and they most likely have the supreme decency to have absolutely no idea who either Adam Sandler or Seth Rogan are. These men and women understand that everything people do has a political aspect, even if that aspect is to avoid being political. Bertolucci, who directed Last Tango in Paris, was an avowed communist. Catherine Breillat, who acted in Tango, is a fiery novelist and director who kicked down the sexual barriers to women in French films with her own brilliant A Real Young Girl (1976), a movie so disturbing it took twenty-three years for the film to be released. Ken Loach has been making great socialist realism films since the 1960s and yet chances are good you can't quite place either his name or some of his best pictures, including Which Side Are You On?, one hell of a fine documentary about police abuses and the spirit of youth, among other things. Ultimately, the two big Hollywood names here, John Sayles and David Lynch, get their due as rebels with cause; yet it's the so-called lesser-known talents who really pull us in and make us want to experience their films. 
      Ismailos earned any drink you'd care to buy her just for getting these people on camera. 

      Once again, you are cordially invited to join PhilroPost on May 30 for our first ever Summer Reading Spectacular.
    Those of you inclined toward fast humor may choose to scroll low to discover our Twenty-three jokes scattered down amidst at those pesky adverts.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


   I've seen Stanley Kubrick's film A Clockwork Orange three times in the theatre, the first being by myself because everyone I knew it the time was terrified that seeing it might warp them in some way, and the other times I watched it with my friend Joyce and then with my friend Ruth Ann. I mention this in such detail because the two women expressed no particular sense of uneasiness, and I considered then and still do that these were and are among two of the wisest and most wonderful women ever, despite my apparent need for alliteration. Anyway, I was originally quite troubled by the movie and I'll tell you why. It's a troubling movie. That's why.
    Whenever something this well done runs counter to everything you believe in and hold sacred, you are going to feel uneasy. Technically, no film before or after has exceeded the brilliance of A Clockwork Orange, from the use of oppositional colors during the opening titles to the overlay of synthetic classical music during the same entrance into the nightmare comic world of Alexander DeLodge. "There was me, then, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, and we sat in the Carova Milkbar trying to make up our razoodocks what to do with the evening." Even if you've seen this film only one time, I guarantee you'll remember that bit of nadsat commentary as the camera at first lingers on the lizard-like huffing face of our friend and humble narrator and then inches back effortlessly to reveal the world in which his story is taking place, a world in which everything has mechanical connotations, including sex, violence, and criminality. Sex is not just sex; it's the old in-out. Violence isn't just violence; it's the old ultra-violence. And crime isn't just crime; it's accompanied by music, old music made by new machines.
    I watched this movie for the umpteenth time this morning and was disturbed all over again. There they stood at the mouth of some blue drained alley with the old drunk burbling away. Alex jammed his cane into the old man's belly and with a tight close up, inquired of the man who had remarked of the stinking world, "Oh? And what's so stinking about it?"
    The movie is terrifying because you can't help but worry that if Hitler had had Kubrick instead of Leni Riefenstahl, the bastard just might have won the way more overtly. The audience gets programmed just as the Alex character in the film gets programmed. And in exactly the same manner. Oh, I know. I went on about that subject about a year ago here and that is true. But dammit, the movie is still every bit as good and every bit as horrible as it ever was and yet I have a hunch that we as an audience or we as a people have just possibly not risen above our own prurience.    
    Of audience manipulation Kubrick is a master, as anyone who has enjoyed The Shining can attest. But relocating the audience around the chessboard or being relocated is insufficient for an engaging evening. We still require an interesting story and here as well we are met head-on with the response to our challenge. Kubrick, as with novelist Anthony Burgess, wastes no time getting down to business. Visually, sartorially and otherwise, A Clockwork Orange does not so much pull us in as it grabs us by the collar and drags us into the admittedly comic shenanigans of the despicable teenager played to perfection by Malcolm McDowell. 
     So what is my problem? My problems are many, but the one I wish to mention in passing is that within the larger context of the director's work, it is reasonable to inquire if just possibly all the psychological shifting wasn't just a magnificently artistic way of camouflaging a deep misogyny. Just like Ray Davies, you and I do not want to die in a nuclear war, but we don't necessarily enjoy the fact that Dr. Strangelove used women as objects, just as they were used in Lolita, just as they were used as either officious bitches or sheer ugliness and stupidity in The Shining. Oh, but that's just part of the auteur's genius at work, they say. Very well, then that is one particular type of genius who is free to stay the hell away from me because I have changed and can no longer put up with this type of betrayal of talent. It turns out that I rather like women. My mother, for instance, was a woman. And I can't say that my initial and prolonged discomfort with A Clockwork Orange and its anti-rehabilitation, anti-statist proclivities are any more palatable today than they were back in 1971 when the film first came out. The only difference is that I no longer have the intellectual burden of needing to rationalize the vacuousness and evil that is ultimately celebrated here in the name of freedom of choice. Better a million Alexes than a system in which he could not be free to exist. That's what they said then and it's been repeated everywhere since from Baghdad to Virginia Tech. Fuck it.  
Stanley Kubrick

Friday, April 20, 2012


    Stars: Four of five.
    Quentin Tarantino made his fame with Pulp Fiction in 1994. Yet the first I'd ever heard of him was as a screenwriter just a bit later that same year. He'd come up with the story for what turned out to be the Oliver Stone film Natural Born Killers. I remember being in the theatre and feeling a little amazed as some people walked out during the first ten minutes. In NBK, the concept of "gratuitous" violence loses all context as the camera follows a spinning butcher knife in slow motion while it crashes through a diner window and slices deeply into the back of a fleeing cowboy. The camera hovers directly behind a discharged bullet that spins in mid air before accelerating into the brain of a waitress. Woody Harrelson slashes off an old man's finger and tells him that it isn't nice to point. Everyone in the audience, I feel safe in saying, was disturbed by this seemingly cavalier, mocking attitude toward severe cruelty. Some people decided not to endorse the concepts by sticking around for them. My friend Barb Carlton and I did stick around. After the movie we went to a diner and talked about the film for at least two hours. The movie was saying something about violence, we assured one another. The nasty real life media used sensational scenes from horrific circumstances to feed junk food to the brain and Tarantino and Stone were bashing the media's balls with bricks. That's what Barb and I decided.
    What I decided, on my own, slowly and with time, is that Tarantino, however much he denies plagiarism and however much he insists that what he does is to pay homage, what he actually is is a very smart guy who has been absorbing cinematic influences his entire life and the sponge which is his brain soaked up most of its influences from the 1970s. Now, here's the thing: Everybody steals ideas from anybody whose ideas are worth stealing. As Michelangelo is reported to have said, "Where I steal, I leave a knife." I'm not comparing the writer-director of Reservoir Dogs to the painter of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But I am saying that whatever thievery we may suspect Tarantino has had a hand in, most of the time he has excelled where those to whom he "pays homage" have merely tinkered. 
    I give you The Killing, by Stanley Kubrick, a movie to which Reservoir Dogs is often quite properly compared. The former film came out in 1956 and good as the movie was, Kubrick was still learning his craft at that point and it would be four more years before he actually came out with his first great film, Spartacus. If Tarantino lifted ideas from The Killing, he did more with them than his predecessor. 
    One of the things that sets Tarantino apart from hack writer-directors is that he has ideas and he knows how to convey them. The story for Dogs is not that complex. What is complex is the telling of it. To offer an example of the brilliance: Tim Roth plays an undercover cop. He is learning how to do this job from his supervisor. The supervisor tells him that he needs to learn how to tell a "commode story." We follow Roth around while he practices working up the story that he will eventually use to convince the bad guys that he is as legitimately crooked as they are. He practices the story until he can do it like a man telling a favorite joke. Then, even though the joke is just a big lie, we follow Roth into the bathroom where the nonexistent story never really happened. That idea, my friends, has genius just sweating rivers off it. 
    The storytelling in Reservoir Dogs is what they like to call nonlinear. That means that it jumps around a bit and doesn't hang on sequencing. Sometimes the film goes off in one direction and lingers there for far longer than we've been conditioned to expect. This idea is right out of the 1970s. I'm thinking particularly of the Woody Allen film Annie Hall. In fact, I could go on all night about all the different influences from the 1970s that help make up this movie and if you've seen the referent points there's a good chance you would agree with me. However, it might be more interesting to look at things a little differently. For example, just the idea of having the villains be the focal point of the movie goes right back to some of the original blaxploitation flicks, such as Superfly and Sweet Badass. That's a little ironic considering the racism of the white guys in Dogs
   The 1970s kicked down the door in introducing streams of endless profanity, horrible violence, anti-heroes, and classical conditioning. Tarantino nicely lifts the fallen door back onto its rusty hinges and then blasts the fucker to smithereens with a rocket launcher. 
    Excuse me? What did I mean by my reference to classical conditioning? Oh, I'll be happy to explain. Remember how in A Clockwork Orange director Stanley Kubrick (again, I know, again) has Alex the anti-hero condition the writer whose wife is raped to have painful flashbacks whenever he hears the song "Singing in the Rain"? Well, the audience gets conditioned the same way. I guarantee you that anyone who ever saw Clockwork thinks of it when they hear the Gene Kelly tune. So guess what? Yep. Tarantino pulls a real Kubrick on the audience by staging some kind of linking device through the scenes in the form of a 1970s flashback radio station that plays hits from that decade. So whenever we hear "Stuck in the Middle with You" today, we flash on the torture scene in the warehouse. And that's not an accident and it isn't paying homage to anybody. It's a thievery and a damned imaginative thievery at that. 
Quentin Tarantino
    I am absolutely not here to act as an apologist for Quentin Tarantino. Neither am I here to make his case for sainthood. I am here to say that with Reservoir Dogs (1992), his first major film, he offered audiences something that had been missing from American movies for more than a while. He made them visually compelling. He made them emotionally exciting. And he made them smart. When Messers White and Pink are arguing about what went wrong during the jewel heist, they speak as men who possess a type of surprising street sophistication regarding their chosen occupation. It doesn't matter whether a gang of jewel thieves could actually be this analytic. What matters is that the gang in this movie is. 
    I think what bothered some people (Roger Ebert comes to mind) about this movie is not so much that Tarantino went over the line with the profanity and the violence. Clearly he did and in the process created a profane and violent gem. What bothers some critics, I think, is their fear that unscrupulous hacks will come along and snatch up influences from Tarantino the way Tarantino did from directors such as Kubrick and DePalma, the latter having stolen his entire oeuvre from Alfred Hitchcock. Well, people are going to do that and I'm sure they have. But the good news is that somewhere there was a kid who watched Reservoir Dogs when it came out on DVD and started really thinking about the ideas of this movie. A kid with talent. A kid who works in a video store. Or for Netflix. And he has this idea. . . 
Quentin Tarantino

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


    [Yesterday (Shooting Oswald) we introduced (or reintroduced) the reader to Billy Jack, Stanley Kubrick, and Stanley Milgram. We pick up where we left off, with the obedience experiments conducted by Milgram at Yale in 1962 and 1963.]

    Milgram came under substantial criticism for his experiments, mainly because they tended to reveal unsettling things about how people are so easily able to exert power over willing "victims." After all, if we knew that the power came from us, we might choose to withhold it. Fed up with distracting questions about his ethics, Milgram replied:

I started with the belief that every person who came to the laboratory was free to accept or to reject the dictates of authority. This view sustains a conception of human dignity insofar as it sees in each man a capacity for choosing his own behavior. And as it turned out, many subjects did, indeed, choose to reject the experimenter's commands, providing a powerful affirmation of human ideals.

Click HERE for the video Milgram made.

    Milgram was pleased that not everyone went to the final level. He describes one such encounter.

The subject, Gretchen Brandt, is an attractive thirty-one-year-old medical technician who works at the Yale Medical School. She had emigrated from Germany five years before. On several occasions when the learner complains, she turns to the experimenter cooly and inquires, "Shall I continue?" She promptly returns to her task when the experimenter asks her to do so. At the administration of 210 volts she turns to the experimenter, remarking firmly, "Well, I'm sorry. I don't think we should continue."
Experimenter: The experiment requires that you go on until he has learned all the word pairs correctly.
Brandt: He has a heart condition. I'm sorry. He told you that before.
Experimenter: The shocks may be painful but they're not dangerous.
Brandt: Well, I'm sorry. I think when shocks continue like this they are dangerous. You ask him if he wants to get out. It's his free will.
Experimenter: It is absolutely essential that we continue.
Brandt: I'd like you to ask him. We came here of our free will. If he wants to continue I'll go ahead. He told you he had a heart condition. I'm sorry. I don't want to be responsible for anything happening to him. I wouldn't like it for me either.
Experimenter: You have no other choice.
Brandt: I think we are here on our own free will. I don't want to be responsible if anything happens to him. Please understand that.

She refuses to go further. And the experiment is terminated. The woman's straightforward, courteous behavior in the experiment, lack of tension, and total control of her own action seem to make disobedience a simple and rational deed. Her behavior is the very embodiment of what I envisioned would be true for almost all subjects.

    Unfortunately, most of the time, what Milgram encountered was the horrifying scenario recounted below.

Fred Prozi's reaction, if more dramatic than most, illuminate the conflicts experienced by others in less visible form. About fifty years old and unemployed at the time of the experiment, he had a good-natured, if slightly dissolute, appearance, and he strikes people as a rather ordinary fellow. He begins the session calmly but becomes tense as it proceeds. After delivering the 180-volt shock, he pivots around in the chair and, shaking his head, addresses the experimenter in agitated tones:

Prozi: I can't stand it. I'm not going to kill that man in there. You hear him hollering?
Experimenter: As I told you before, the shocks may be painful, but. . .
Prozi: But he's hollering. He can't stand it. What's going to happen to him?
Experimenter: The experiment requires that you continue, Teacher.
Prozi: Aah, but, unh, I'm not going to get that man sick in there. Know what I mean?
Experimenter: Whether the learner likes it or not, we must go on, through all the word pairs. 
Prozi: I refuse to take the responsibility. He's in there hollering.
Experimenter: It's absolutely essential that you continue, Prozi.
Prozi: There's too many left here. I mean, Jeez, if he gets them wrong, there's too many of them left.  mean, who's going to take the responsibility if anything happens to that gentleman?
Experimenter: I'm responsible for anything that happens to him. Continue, please.
Prozi: All right. The next one's "Slow--walk, truck, dance, music." Answer please. Wrong. A hundred and ninety-five volts. "Dance."
Learner: Let me out of here! My heart's bothering me!
Experimenter: We must continue. Go on, please.
Prozi: You mean keep giving him that? Four hundred fifty volts, what's he got now?
Experimenter: That's correct. Continue. The next word is "white."
Prozi: "White--cloud, horse, rock, house." Answer, please. The answer is "horse." Four hundred and fifty volts. Next words, "Bag--paint, music, clown, girl." The next answer is "paint." Four hundred and fifty volts. Next word--
Experimenter: Excuse me, Teacher. We'll have to discontinue the experiment.

    If filmmaker Stanley Kubrick was unaware of Milgram's test on obedience, he apparently drew the same conclusions. People can be controlled in a democracy as long as they bestow authority or responsibility upon the person directing their behavior. For a film director such as Kubrick, his repudiation alone is nearly enough to persuade an audience to obey. Add to that the celebrity of his actors, the magnificence of his craft, along with the dark black confines of a movie theatre, and one has sufficient conspiring elements to twist the moviegoer's ear in favor of endowing the director with unconditional power.

    Such cinematic exercises have been trivialized since the 1980s. Now audience manipulation is unsubtle and direct in ways that would have embarrassed the makers of Billy Jack. In a film such as Speed, for example, the good guys and bad guys are grossly two-dimensional, the plot is action, the conflict is mechanical, character development is inherent in the good or bad looks of the character, and whatever minimal audience manipulation does exist can only be measured in a reduction of alpha waves.
    A few noteworthy and refreshing exceptions to this trivialization do exist. In 1991, Oliver Stone released JFK. Stone is possibly the only big money filmmaker working in America today who can approximate the Kubrick-style conditioning, and JFK proves the point. Predictably, the movie was bludgeoned by much of the media and was attacked by American intellectuals and nincompoops alike for the agreed-upon charge of distorting history.
    Stone argued that some of his attackers had a vested interest in maintaining the myth of the Warren eport. That may well be true, but no one would have cared at all what the film was saying had it not been said with such authority. In the context of the film, the theory that forces within the U.S. Government conspired to kill John Kennedy because he supposedly deserted the cause of anti-Castro Cubans and was signaling an end to U.S. involvement in Vietnam is a sharply convincing one. JFK is a motion picture that leads the viewer to consider his or her own programming while being programmed to do so. Or, as Stone himself said, "It is a counter myth." Or, as Kevin Costner, in the role of prosecutor Jim Garrison, says in his closing remarks to the jury:

I believe we have reached a time in our country, similar to what life must've been like under Hitler in the 1930s, except we don't realize it because fascism in our country takes the benign disguise of liberal democracy. There won't be such familiar signs as swastikas. We won't build Dachaus and Auschwitzes. We're not going to wake up one morning and suddenly find ourselves in gray uniforms goose-stepping off to work. "Fascism will come," Huey Long once said, "in the name of anti-fascism." It will come with the mass media manipulating a clever concentration camp of the mind. The super state will make you believe you are living in the best of all possible worlds, and in order to do so will rewrite history as it sees fit. 

Jim Garrison

    It is not always a simple matter to determine what constitutes a political film. Is it more political to challenge authority than to support it? Is a political film one that strives to unearth some secreted fundamental facts about the nature of society, or is it one that champions the individual psychology as true political enlightenment? Or is a political film only one that is about politics or politicians?

    The problem with such questions lies in assuming that a movie can only be political, as opposed to being romantic, thrilling, action-packed, or comedic. The fact is that hundreds of major motion pictures have been made that had very strong political messages, or that at least were weighted with political connotations. 

Marlon Brando

The Ludivico Treatment

    If you stop by tomorrow, we will continue this discussion and examine some of the more noteworthy political films of our age. But don't come alone. This may get messy.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


     In 1971 a group of film students wrote, directed, produced and acted in a movie called Billy Jack. The film, which starred Tom Laughlin and Dolores Taylor, was dependent for approval first upon the pre-existing politics of the viewer and second upon that viewer's decision about the acceptable means of achieving political change. Naive and simplistic, Billy Jack was also brash, daring, and quite accurate in its message that pacifists exist at the mercy of emotional heathens. And emotional heathens have a history of being unmerciful.

Billy: You worked with King. Where is he?
Jean: Dead.
Billy: And where are Jack and Bobby Kennedy?
Jean: Dead.
Billy: Not dead. They had their brains blown out.

    The significance of this movie should not be underestimated. Not many films released in the USA have suggested that the Allies lost World War II or that the government's government is none too benignly fascist or that it is not only appropriate but even urgent to defend the country against that government. The film makes the choices simple. The man v. man conflicts are (a) oppressed native Americans versus reactionary WASPs, (b) communal dwellers versus urban despot, (c) youth versus aged, (d) poor versus rich, (e) free versus neurotic, and (f) good versus evil. At the time, those who enjoyed the film saw it as an inspirational work that gave hope to those opposed to the status quo. Today, such a film would be considered inspired propaganda, even by those who agree with its central themes, just as today such once revolutionary philosophies have been co-opte and perverted by right wing separatists who find safe havens in Idaho and Montana.
    1971 saw the release of another subversive film, this one a celluloid adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novel, A Clockwork Orange. Stanley Kubrick's film was just as subversive and yet even more persuasive and down right manipulative than Billy Jack. Beginning with loud synthetic dominant strands of mostly familiar classical music, the movie leads the audience into the protective hands of Alex, the protagonist and "humble narrator." Alex lives in a future where every impulse and action is ultimately and merely functional, and in the process extrapolates on the conservative uses of liberal reform, even though it is impossible to tell who are the reformers and who are the reactionaries. Alex is a truly despicable character. He leads an assault on a drunken old man, he whips other young folks with chains, he steals a car and runs people off the road with it, he cripples a writer and makes him watch while the gang of "droogs" rapes his wife. And it is this despicable Alex with whom the audience is compelled to identify. Alex is not only the voice and figure that directs the audience through the adventures of the movie; he is proudly nonmechanical and unartificial. So even though he is the embodiment of free evil, we the audience become upset when he is manipulated by a state mechanism that is certainly no nobler than young Alex. The identification with what has been improperly called an anti-hero was reinforced many ways, perhaps most cleverly as we see Alex become programmed to have unpleasant physical responses to hearing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and slowly realize that something similar has happened to us when we hear "Singing in the Rain," a song Alex sings while leading the gang rape.

    Kubrick's earlier film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, has received the most fluctuating degrees of praise and condemnation of any major mation picture. Based on the story by Arthur C. Clarke and released in 1968, 2001 was loved by dopers and  art film aficionados, but the general reaction was voiced by Rock Hudson, who reportedly fled the theatre shouting, "Will somebody please tell me what this film is about?!?"
    The problem with Mr. Hudson was that--as with so many others who found the film boring--he simply asked the wrong question. One might as well have responded, "Oh, it's about two hours" as to have labored on about the ascent of man and other concepts that loosely unify the manifestation of the director's realization of the senses involved in film appreciation: sight and sound. A great movie such as A Hard Day's Night is certainly not about anything either. Nevertheless, it was entertaining, life-affirming, and as with Kubrick's film of four years later, contained visual scenes and snips of dialog that tend to be retained by the audience for far longer than seems reasonable. Anyone who has watched the Richard Lester Beatles film will recall the response John Lennon gives the interviewer who asks how he found the United States. "Turned left at Greenland." Anyone who has watched the Kubrick film will remember the astronaut's command to the space system computer: "Open the pod door, HAL." This act of instilling memories is nothing short of classical conditioning.
    Kubrick has accomplished the conditioning miracle in two other films: The Shining and Full Metal Jacket
    The Shining, before it was a movie, was a novel. The man who wrote the novel was Stephen King. At that time, 1978, Stephen King's books were of the horror genre. The Shining was so intensely horrifying that it was at times psychologically painful, higher praise for which does not exist. By contrast, the movie was not painful. The movie lured the viewer in most seductively, went together waltzing, cleverly cascading through unexplained episodes that again were too compelling not to be trusted.
    The King people hated it. Adherents of strict translation of novel to film felt betrayed, generic horror fans shrugged out of the theatre (no doubt thinking, "Will somebody please tell me what this film is about?!?"), and King himself was so displeased (he claimed that among other things, he strongly disliked Jack Nicholson's performance and felt this was very much the wrong actor because his work in an earlier film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, led people to assume the same character had stumbled into this film) that twenty years later he produced the abysmal remake entitled Stephen King's The Shining

    Despite the objections of literary purists, the Kubrick film was not only cinematically magnificent, it also pulled off associations and manipulations equally affecting casual viewer and celluloid scholars. the perfect mental association is formed when the Jack Torrance character (played with superhuman strength by Nicholson) destroys the bathroom door behind which his wife and son are hiding, puts his face up to the curtain of wood, and prefatory to the anticipated slaughter of his family, bellows with great jocularity, "Here's Johnny!" So successful was that burst of tension relief and so exact was the actor's delivery that from that moment on it became impossible to listen to Ed McMahon's introduction for his boss on "The Tonight Show" without conjuring up that same mental image. Earlier in the same motion picture, the audience is persuaded to identify with Jack Torrance, even though this character becomes a very bad man. His wife, Wendy, played by Shelly Duvall, does not deserve the bad things that her husband is trying to do to her. And yet the audience is clearly pulling for Jack. In one familiar scene, Wendy is protecting herself from Jack by wielding a baseball bat. Jack has the funny lines, the motivation, the flattering shots, and far more name and visual recognition than Ms. Duvall, who in her character comes across weak, helpless, and pathetic. It may be that Kubrick lured the audience into siding with Jack because the director believed that we could only understand the character's public and private demons if we sympathetically identified with that character. Or, just as likely, the director himself enjoyed this type of psychological manipulation and may even have felt his film's successes depended upon this.
    Whatever Kubrick's motives, his unparalleled skill in group coercion made it perfect that he would direct one of the best films about the Vietnam War, Full Metal Jacket
    By the late 1970s, the war experience had become fodder for movie studios. The very fact of a film being made about the war suggested the slant would be anti, but that was not necessarily so. Coming Home, starring Jane Fonda, Bruce Dern and Jon Voight, was certainly a film that did not seem to much care for the war in as much as Voight--whose character was crippled--was able to "give" Fonda the orgasm her pro-military husband Dern could not. But besides that and a great period piece soundtrack, the movie offered little. Not much better was The Deer Hunter, although it did deal with the psychological horrors affecting people long after the war was over. And even though Oliver Stone would later make two excellent films was the war as the focus, for the better part of a decade, Francis Ford Copolla's Apocalypse Now was the ultimate Vietnam War film. 
    And for very good reason. Based tangentially on the Joseph Conrad short novel Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now, in the words of its director, "wasn't about Vietnam. It was Vietnam." True enough. This was a big film with big actors and a big budget and there can be no doubt that anyone who has seen the movie has come away with at least snippets of realization of what the war was like. Copolla's intent was not to sermonize or persuade, and the film is genius in the way it deals with power without dealing with politics. The audience finds darkness, they find madness, but they are finding it less through their own eyes than through those of Willard, the captain played by Martin Sheen.
     And that is not something which can be said about Full Metal Jacket. FMJ used a creative reportage journey style of telling its story, but where Apocalypse Now moved slow and inexorably closer to the darkness of Kurtz, Kubrick's film was calculated second by second. Comprised of three parts, the movie begins with the post-induction pre-boot camp scene where the inductees have their long hair clipped off to the tune of Tom T. Hall's "Hello Vietnam." Young male volunteers, dozens of them, one after another, are freed from the liberation of their hair. The second part of the film is boot camp itself, where the audience is in the hands of Private Joker, our humble narrator. the Private has written "Born to Kill" on his helmet and wears a peace button on his uniform, which, he explains, is an attempt to say something about the duality of man. Kubrick brings back the Orange-style coercion as we watch a fat, stupid, frustrating recruit played by Vincent D'Onofrio be brutalized by his squad one night in retribution for a punishment doled out by the drill instructor. Since few in the audience desire to identify with an overweight ignoramus, the lure is to side with the group against him. But since Joker is the protagonist, we wait to see what he will do. He does exactly what an eighteen-year-old Marine would do under those conditions and administers a particularly savage beating. The ethics being thus resolved, the audience is freed to savor the brutality.
    The final part of the film is set during the Tet Offensive, where our Marines are in Vietnam, fighting it out in an infantry gang where it quite appropriately becomes a challenge telling good guy from bad. But Kubrick doesn't so much play fair as he plays real. Having already accepted so much brutality upon the person of Joker, and having already rationalized that Joker's antisocial behavior was acceptable, the slaughter of the Vietnamese in turn may become an alright thing as well, just as it did in real life.
    Aside from the fact that this is precisely how societal evils become palatable to the majority of media-hungry processing units, the prime message of all these Kubrick films is sobering: if the public can be manipulated, can be aware of the manipulation, and in spite of that fact continue to respond to the manipulation, then is it not just as likely that the audience is being conditioned outside the movie theatre and may even be acting complicit and in concert with that far more significant level of manipulation?
    The key element in any act of manipulation or coercion is the perceived authority of those in a presumed position of power over those potentially being controlled. In 1962 and 1963, psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted a series of experiments at Yale University devised to test obedience. Forty participants were told they were engaging in an exercise to measure the effects of aversion on memory. The participants were told to read a series of questions and answers via intercom to subjects behind a separating wall. After this, the participants were to ask the questions again, and this time the learners would attempt to give the correct answer. If the learner gave the wrong answer or failed to reply, the teachers were to administer increasingly higher levels of punitive electric shock. Aversion treatment apparently played no role in memory retention because the learners begged and pleaded for the horribly painful shocks to stop. Despite the fact that the learners argued and shouted that they had heart conditions, and despite the fact that ominous silence eventually became the learners' response, sixty-five percent of the teachers followed Milgram's orders to administer the highest voltage possible, a level several steps beyond which the learners pounded on the wall and begged for release. Several teachers became emotionally disturbed as a result of what they realized about themselves in this and subsequent experiments, even after it turned out that the learners were simply acting and were not actually being shocked. As Dr. Milgram described it: "With numbing regularity, good people were seen to knuckle under to the demands of authority and perform actions that were callous and severe. Men who are in everyday life responsible and decent were seduced by the trappings of authority, by the control of their perceptions, and by the uncritical acceptance of the experimenter's definition of the situation, into performing harsh acts. A substantial proportion of people do what they are told to do, irrespective of the content of the act and without limitations of conscience, so long as they perceive that the command comes from a legitimate authority."

[Continued Concentration Camp of the Mind.]