Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Screaming Meemies



I’m beginning to wake nights with the screaming meemies. It’s its own thing. An old onomatopoeia from the 50’s. Not just an alternative to the heebie-jeebies as I thought of it when I was a kid. You need to get older to realize what it is, you will need to wake some nights screaming, “Me, me!” There’s no way around it.  So give up trying. Surrender. What’s the point if you can’t lose your mind now. The meemies are strictly an approaching-the-end disorder. Known from here on out as ATE. Acute fear of losing oneself, for good, for ever. It’s the half-examined life taking a last look at itself. Saying goodbye. Remembering, no longer wanting to forget, but approaching that encroaching wave that’s gonna sweep the shingled sands of your mind clean, into a flat, broad beach spreading toward the endless slate of the sea and the infinite plank of the horizon…

Anyway, I’m trying to get up for these. The day games. Forget about the me-mes, the meemies, the memes, whatever. It’s game day once again. Let’s get this life out in order. Watching from the outfield, thinking, it’s always been game day. No reason to stop playing just cause yer old. There’s memories coming to your plate.  Pound yer mitt.  It’s coming your way. What you’ve seen is part of everything you’ve been through, who you are, what you missed. What you missed? I mean, what I missed.  Why is this such an awful question, why do I read it with loathing and why is it so universal? What did we miss? What did I miss. So much. But with age I find I’m denied access to it. The palpable feeling that everything could change around the next corner. The other lives I still could have.  Gone now. Instead, it’s as if a crew has been slowly spreading around my town invisible and unbeknownst to me, sealing the manhole covers on every street. Like in The Third Man. With this difference. There are no longer any other lives for me to escape into, other selves, unlived lives, the ghosts of wives not married, trips not taken, careers not pursued, of loves not indulged… They are down there now, in the sewers, rotting, dying into that primordial ooze from neglect. And not only can’t I do anything for them, I’m kept from their company. No longer even protesting, too old, too tired, too long ignored, they turn away from the manhole covers, go back down the stairs to the floor of the sewer. It’s me who’s barred from opening up the manhole and letting them out. Like I used to, taking one of them for a sunset walk along the river’s edge, sharing the end of a perfect day in another life. Those days are no more.  Instead, if you’re lucky you’ll catch a towering memory, lofted high, circling under it, waiting for it…

Sunday, February 05, 2017

SALESMAN by Asghar Farhadi -- A Map Of Misreadings




SALESMAN By Asghar Farhadi – Reviewed February 4th, 2017 



Amid the exceptional political tumult that’s overtaken all things in the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration Mr. Farhadi’s latest work, an Oscar Nominee from Iran for Best Foreign Film, is likely lost in myopias. The Muslim Ban, which will keep him from attending the Oscar ceremony this year, may have sealed its fate as an artwork likely to be preserved in the amber of its moment. SALESMAN, which, indeed, is very much a political work that invites cross-cultural readings, has more to say to its Iranian and American male and female audiences than those readings provide. Obliquely, it reflects how the art of the personal, of the human, is among the first casualties of politicized art.

The film, much summaried, is the story of Emad, a school teacher/actor who, with his wife, Rana, mount a production of Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman as the childless couple are uprooted from one crumbling apartment only to suffer an unseen violent assault in their next. The wife’s traumatic unknowing about the event and her husband’s slowly consuming search for her victimizer contains the story. But the atmosphere is one of suffocating suppression beneath a veil of shame. Sympathetic neighbors avoid assumptions about the nature of the attack and are hesitant to reveal the behavior of the previous tenant, a woman with many male friends. Rana insists Emad not go to the police, and details of the incident are withheld from their theater colleagues. Shame at being unable to protect his wife, find them a new, safe apartment or even locate a substitute for his film class drives Emad's search for the assailant who’s cell phone, car keys and truck were left behind in his headlong flight from his crime. 

Deep, personal humiliation boils under a lid of complicit silence. Interaction after interaction in SALESMAN is inflected and distorted by an oppressive fear of public humiliation. What it shares with Miller’s Death Of A Salesman is a social milieu whose destructiveness is culturally (rather than politically), personally self-imposed.

As much as Miller’s play forms a touchstone to SALESMAN’s themes, two lesser noted film references are Farhadi’s clear referents. Emad, exhausted by the search for Rana’s assailant, and his duties as director and star of Miller’s play, falls asleep while screening THE COW for his class, a 1969 Iranian film directed by Dariush Mehrjui. Emad’s callow students take phone pics making faces beside him, dance and shadow-play before the screen while the climactic scene of Mehrjui’s film unspools. It’s a scene of profound public humiliation, the film’s hero, Hassan, mad with grief over the loss of his beloved cow (and his status as owner of the only cow in the village) is roped like a heifer and dragged through the village’s muddy streets. Emad wakes to his students mockery. Furious, he grabs the phone that contains pics that could prove his downfall. And, apparently, pornography -- that could doom the student as well. Emad, after a long, vengeful pause, relents. What is lost on his students, and some of its American audience, is the pivotal position THE COW occupies in Iranian film and cultural history. Ayatollah Khomeini, after the Iranian revolution, indirectly gave his blessing to the independent cinema movement in Iran when, after seeing THE COW, he publicly announced his approval. “I like this film.” It permitted the growth of a non-commercial, non-Western influenced film culture in Iran, one that has permitted directors like Farhadi expression.

Hassan’s eponymous cow is pregnant when she dies, a death whose causes, like Rana’s victimization, occurs off-screen and under a cloak of suspicion. Also married but childless, Hassan’s internalization of his loss slowly transforms him into a mad consumer of hay. Alternatively, when a recovering Rana makes pasta for a fellow actress’s child, both her and the child’s delight in the meal is abruptly thwarted by Emad who removes their plates. Having exposed that this meal was inadvertently purchased with cash left by her assailant, he won’t allow its nurturance to override his sense of dishonor.

The other prominent film referent, tellingly, is Ingmar Bergman’s 1969 drama SKAMMEN (SHAME) starring Liv Ullman and Max Von Sydow as a childless couple whose relationship is sundered during a military coup by her offscreen liason with their collaborationist friend, the Mayor. Her act of betrayal, likewise revealed by the presence of money left on furniture, leads the humiliated husband to revenge himself on the Mayor. A poster of SKAMMEN peeks out in the now almost empty original apartment where Emad confronts Rana’s attacker. Summoned there, Rana pleads with Emad not to exact revenge on her attacker, an elderly man terrified of having his actions exposed to his family.

SKAMMEN is a peculiar Bergman film, one with a mixed critical reputation, due in part to its uncharacteristic political (and hypothetical) setting. Its production was on the heels of a famously humiliating public rebuke. While screening Eisenstein’s STRIKE in 1968 at the Swedish Film School, Bergman’s students walked out during an anti-war protest, calling him an out-of-date “bourgeois” artist. Perhaps these two parallel film stories are Farhadi’s own way of suggesting SALESMAN be taken for the particulars of its characters’ situation more than its political parallels. 

For as much as Emad and Rana are urban intellectuals enacting Miller’s American Death Of A Salesman in contemporary Iran, they are their own culture’s subjects whose history and circumstances can’t be reshaped by our readings, or their readings of stories from cultures other than their own.  What does have universal resonance is Emad's decision and its destructive consequences, actions compelled by the animal, the raw, the instinctual, the reflexive shame at our naked humanity -- the shame-driven economy of human urges.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

How I Got To Be Dictator-For-Life-Of-America By Donald J. Trump


    How I Got To Be President-For-Life Of America

                         By Donald J. Trump


First of all, you have to understand one thing, people don’t say ‘no’ to me. It doesn’t happen, it’s like magic. I either charm them to death or I hound them. Over and over.  I ask, I demand, I send letters and lawyers until finally, I trump! It’s my name, it’s my nature. It’s who I am. I don’t give up until they give up, and I get my way.  Trans Pacific Trade agreement, gone!  NAFTA, even now we’re working on the final details. This is going to work out so well for Mexico I may run for President there as well. Anyway, so, it really shouldn’t surprise any of you that I’ve gotten us to where we are today. Thank you. 

This is a movement, we said it right from the beginning. In only a few short years, months, we’ve taken the White House back and made America great again. The economy’s roaring, they’re building factories like never before in small towns; I hear great things from Pennsylvania and Michigan; with Russia’s help we’ve crushed ISIS. Sounds a little like something to eat, doesn't it, crushed ices? Well that’s what we did to them. They’ve evaporated. Gone, no more. Didn't I tell you it'd be easy? President Assad helped. See what you can accomplish if you treat Russia like a partner? We've decimated radical Islamic terrorism and now, with Russia, we have a half trillion dollar oil deal, oil we’re going to extract from Antarctica with Russia. And the credit belongs to everybody.  Secretary Tillerson, President Putin. Both countries rich, both countries strong. Allies.. How far we’re going to go it’s impossible to say. But together, who knows? We did it together.

The administration, this administration. In two years, into a terrible headwind, caused by the press. But remember, didn’t I tell you, what happens when I put my mind to something? And the winning is just beginning, there's no stopping us. Once I lay it on the line I go all in. Fully, all the way. In. And I win. When I’m involved we win.  I’m not saying I never had second thoughts. The primaries were brutal. Name-calling, smears, people said things, I won’t use any of their names. Okay, just one, Marco. But Marco, I forgive Marco, “little Marco”, I’m gonna put him in charge of all relations in the Carribean. And we have big, big plans for the Caribbean. The many projects, hotels, resorts, yacht harbors, beautiful, beautiful projects. Every American will get two weeks off and a paid vacation in the Caribbean. Wouldn’t that be terrific? It's going to happen. Eventually.

I’ll tell you something, some people said I ran for President on a lark. I’d get tired. Do I look tired? But they were wrong.  Wrong “bigly”, only I don’t say ‘bigly’ any more. ‘Bigly’ is in the word grave, buried next to ‘Yuge’.  I stopped saying those words.  Why?  I don’t like being made fun of. It’s disrespectful, and nobody is more respectful than I am, unless you disrespect me first. Then I do many times more things to you. Does anyone like being mocked? To put up with what I’ve had to put up with from the lying media?  I’m not surprised America is so grateful they made me “President For Life”. Isn’t that beautiful, doesn’t that sound beautiful. “President For Life” I love that. How many elections like the last one do we have to go through. Ugly, ugly election. Everybody said so, Democrat, Republicans, Independents, everyone. Lies being spewed everywhere. So much lying..  So much. America wants change. That’s all America wanted. Why did it have to be so hard?

And now we have change and ahead of us so much winning. And if somehow I don’t get us all the way, all the way to the top—I’m not saying that’s going to happen—we’re going to the top.  But if we don’t reach the very, very top. And for this country the skies the limit. Rockets to other planets, we’re going to build rockets to knock everybody else’s out of the air. This is possible to do. Ask the generals. We have plans for it, the best companies are already bidding the jobs to build it. Work, work for the whole country. More work than we can possibly do. We may have to grant more guest worker visas to Mexico. That’s right. We’re not going to knock down the wall. But we’re going to be letting a lot more Mexicans through the door. Full employment. If you’re an American there’s a minimum wage. The Mexican they come in legally, they leave legally and they get paid whatever the market will bear. Fair is fair. Anyway, where was I? The very top. All the way. Who’s slogan was that--LBJ? The Great Society. Great phrase, great idea. Only we’re the ones who created it, that great society. And now that martial law is in place we’re going to keep everybody safe, too.  Watch. You’ll see. No more attacks. We have the backs of the local police. Raise a gun at a cop, boom, you’re dead, no questions asked. Doesn’t matter, black, Asian, white, purple. Respect the law. You’ve gotta respect the law. But it’s a long road, folks. We’ve still got a long way to go. And if I don’t get us all the way up to the top, the very, very top, maybe only 95% there, then maybe one of my boys will. I’m 73, strong as an ox. I don’t plan on going anywhere soon, but just in case. Mike Pence, of course, according to the constitution would succeed me as President. As it should be. He will, god forbid if something were to happen during my term.  We’re not going to amend the constitution, too much to do. Mike’s a good man, god, Mike really is. But I think, with Mike, the country is probably, maybe going to want another Trump to lead them. In consultation. Am I right? You can clap. It’s not up to me, it’s up to the people, of course. The people will decide which one of them, Eric, or Donald, Jr. if there should be an opening.

Or Ivanka. Once she gets over grieving. What happened to Jared. Terrible, terrible thing, accident, murder. I'll tell you what... It was the main reason we instituted martial law. I’ve asked the intelligence agencies, they’re looking into it. Those fences are tall. And nobody saw them, nobody saw them cross the lawn? How is that possible? This is the White House. It was not an inside job. That much we know. But I have enemies. Sick people, sick groups. We know that-- Let me just say ,there’s evidence we’re not allowed to talk about. But I’ll tell you this--when the FBI tracks down who leaked that the lie, LIE, that the FBI thought it was an ‘inside job’ is going to spend alotta time in prison. There’s dissent and then there’s lies and slander. And we’re done with that. There will be serious, serious consequences. But as to the “President-For-Life” position, whatever happens when I go, if I go, everybody has to go, folks, even me. But when the time comes we’re not going to go through that, another election, again. Too costly. The country, the WORLD couldn’t take it. We drove everybody crazy. China was mad at me, Russia, and everybody else, was mad at Hillary. Nearly destroyed the country. Nearly destroyed the country. We don’t need any more of that. You’ll decide what to do, if Mike needs help. How? We have ways of finding out, we know what you think. We listen to you, to the peope. We don’t spy. That’s another lie, that this administration is doing domestic spying. Only of America’s enemies. And then the media. What would we do without them? Those liars across the street. Does anybody believe them, anybody? They don’t know what’s happening, how could they, because they’re not allowed anywhere around here. So who, who, is so stupid to believe them? Nobody, that’s right. The New York Times, the Washington Post, fiction, rumors, fake news.

And god bless the generals. So smart, that’s why I surround myself with them. Can’t have enough generals. They’re doing an incredible, incredible, amazing, amazing job. And under terrible circumstances.  These are good people.  Good, good people. You don’t know how good. Asking me to declare martial law was the last thing they wanted to do.  You can ask them. But they could see what was happening, the lies, the obstruction, the insults. Daily confrontations.  Believe me, they didn’t want to do this. They argued for months. Finally, I said, is this something we should look at?  And they shrugged and said maybe. What with the lies, and the attacks, and the endless attempts to overturn the election. There really wasn’t any other choice folks. They know what it takes, they saw what was coming. You can’t run a country with a minority of people from tiny little areas telling lies and trying to undermine the enormous plans for developments that we have under way. It couldn’t be allowed. We had to do it. But now that it’s done, we’ll see just how great America can be. Thank you, thank you, love you, too.