Monday, April 7, 2014

Unleashing the Agony: Film as Text in "True Detective" (Part 1)

Unleashing the Agony: Film as Text in "True Detective"*

"Song that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard
In dim Carcosa."
Robert W. ChambersThe King in Yellow

"From the dusty mesa,
a looming shadow grows,
hidden in the branches,
of the poisoned tree of souls."
The Handsome Family, 'Far From Any Road'

So goes the opening credits song to True Detective, a series which is a good deal more visceral than the horror novel of late 19th century origin that this brilliant new show draws much inspiration from.  From Poe to Bierce, on downward through Chambers and then finding it's apotheosis in the godfather of modern horror, H.P. Lovecraft, we have a rich history of literature absorbed through the medium of Gothic fiction found here.   It's odd to open an essay with two quotes, but this show has so much literary depth that you'll  find that it's easy to do so, and two quotes may simply not suffice.  We'll be comparing the first episodes - 1 through 3 specifically - to literature in the coming paragraphs this week.  Once we understand the literature this show draws upon and understand bits of it textually, we will follow with two more vantage points; This show is far from just an audio book.  To analyze it solely as literature is to let down the glorious vision that Nic Pizzolatto set out to point us toward.

Evolution plays heavily in this show.  We will see it from an evolutionary psychology standpoint, of course, but we must also discuss it from the point of view of evolved humans ensconced within a modern framework of culture and politics.  We have great conversations between an atheist and a Christian, which in their simplicity echo through history, containing those ideas that have kept these two camps (rightfully so, I might add) at odds with each other.  We have adultery, murder, serial murder, evolutionary awareness, cynicism, lust, redemption, justice and so many other juicy tidbits that have played a huge role in our evolutionary past, do so in our evolutionary present, and will do so in our evolutionary future.  We will consider altruism and the artist, how religion plays into this, and how it may be the only thing that can save us.  With the middle of the series - episodes 4-5 - covered, still there is more.

Finally, we must level the lens of humanism at this show.  Here we blend everything we know so far to try and understand what can be said and what must be done as a result of insights gained.  The final three episodes arrive in the present, after the first 5 having various flashbacks and only interviews in present day, and it makes sense to use this turning point in the show to consider the present day situations this show touches upon, and there are many.
_____

So what is literature?  More importantly, why do writers write?  Sure, each writer probably has a slightly different story, but perhaps we can draw some rough generalizations.  Evolutionary psychology has argued that much art is done for the sake of gaining status and wealth, which allow us to have, in theory, a better genetic fitness (Dissayanake, Pinker)  Certainly this is true of much writing.  Romance novelists may not have a lot of status as compared to your typical artist or writer, though humorously they may not lose a lot of it either, as they write under pen names much of the time.  They certainly gain wealth.  Stories told in past societies helped us live within the mores of the society, and learn those very ideas, but they probably conferred a high status upon those who memorized them and told them best.  Rather than stick to the byline here, I'd argue that certain writers, in modern societies, and perhaps all of them to a smaller degree, write with an altruistic reason at heart.

Art is one of the few ways to express something I'd call pure altruism.  More on this later, but let's get a tiny bit more perspective on writing.  Maya Angelou has stated, "There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you."  Aye, this suggests that there is a sort of catharsis in storytelling.  Perhaps in modern society, the artist is more sensitive, and thus holds on to pain and love and other emotions longer and more intensely than those who don't feel this need to "express."  Certainly much criticism of art has taken this vantage point.  Is the idealist just projecting their lack of genetic fitness, or is there a real desire to change things there?
"I believe one writes because one has to create a world in which one can live," writes Anais Nin.  "I could not live in any of the worlds offered to me--the world of my parents, the world of war, the world of politics."  Certainly there's a good deal of selfishness evinced in just these words, but there's a genuine selflessness as well.  There's a destructive capability that isn't explainable in purely selfish terms.  Perhaps these women have a more feminine approach to literature, something which allows their altruism to more easily come to the surface.  Perhaps they've evolved this way, as the caregivers of the young.

Let's discuss a brief outline of the first episodes of the series.

EP1: "The Long Bright Dark"
In episode one of True Detective, we meet the cast.  Marty Hart is a family man, married, two daughters.  A policeman who hasn't been a detective in Louisiana long, Rust Cohle, is his new partner, a seemingly jaded, obviously atheist character, a wild card who we can't really figure out right away.  The series hinges around a bizarre case where a girl is tattooed in the shape of a swirl on her back, molested, stabbed, and tied naked to a tree.  It's not for the faint of heart.  Strangely, a crown of deer horns is placed on her head, and hanging from the tree and around other areas of the scene are wooden sculptures, initially indecipherable, but clearly a part of the scene and intentionally.  Rust takes immediate interest, scribbling notes in his journal pad which earn him the nickname, "The Taxman" amongst his coworkers.  Marty does as well, and we're not really sure if it's a magnetic attraction to Rust or an interest in the bizarre, but it's probably a bit of both.  The die is cast.

An awkward dinner invite and an even more awkward acceptance and attendance ensues.  We first learn of Rustin's background here, a bit, as most men, according to Marty, don't talk about their personal lives at work.  Funny enough, it's him who first brings up personal things, after witnessing the horrific crime scene.  "Ask you something.  You're Christian, yeah?"  Pause.  "No."  What ensues is the most gleefully uncomfortable discussion between the two.  Rustin is clearly an atheist and he has a lot to say about it.  Marty is freaked out by the crime, and now being paired with a heathen.  Back to working the case, we learn more sordid things about Rust and we get new evidence and eerie elements as the two detectives seem to have stumbled onto a serial murderer.

Most importantly, and I've left it til last because it add another entire dimension to the proceedings, we are told the story by the two detectives 17 years after the case, by way of flashback.  Why the interviews?  What has happened?  Well apparently there is another murder, we learn that supposedly the killer was caught in 95 and the new detectives interviewing Cohle and Hart want to know why it's still happening.  "How indeed detectives?" Asks Cohle.  He knows something.

EP2: "Seeing Things"
In episode 2, following up on the case, the victim found first (Dora Kelly Lange) is where they start.  Her mother reveals she was religious.  Backwards, Southern Baptist deep south swamp religious, to be sure.  It's fitting to mention, considering my own struggles, that she says the Ave Maria to mitigate her migraines.  More friend interviews, more details of Hart's life told to the detectives.  More interesting car rides with incredible dialogue.  They found out where Dora was staying, a trailer park whorehouse and find people to question there.  She left behind a bag with a diary.  "The king's children were marked.  They became his angels."  A scribbled, hasty view of her diary shows in bold, "The Yellow King." Here we get a first mention of "Carcosa," and a most literate back story.  They talk about the killer perhaps drugging his victims, slowly upping the dose to drive them crazy and draw them deeper into a fantasy he's creating.  Cohle tells the detectives some of his own insane history and we see some of the visual hallucinations .  He quotes Corinthians obliquely to explain his desire to work homicide.  We get an interview with Dora's ex, belying more religious aspirations and weirdness.  "The King in Yellow" was one thing she talked about with him.  He thought she was crazy.

Marty and his wife visit her parents.  There is some strange conversation here, and we see more and more development of these characters.  "You know, throughout time, every old man has probably said the same thing.  Old men die, and the world keeps spinning."  Marty says to the same thing, after a conservative rant about the state of the world today. We just know that all is not right.  Episode 2 also introduces Marty as an adulterer.  It's a common thing, so why does it matter so much in so many fictions?  Well, at least in this series, it provides a glimpse into Marty's mind and reality.  A cousin of the Senator Tuttle stops by the precinct to talk about a task force they're creating to investigate "anti-Christian" crime.  Rust can't believe it and voices his frustrations about it.  It creates tension between everyone in the station. "It's a political circle-jerk," he tells the chief, laughing.  Nobody else (except the enlightened viewer) finds the humor in this.  Rust scolds his coworker for hitting the bars instead of witnesses and there's a clear rift between him and his more casual fellow police.  This is life or death for Rust, a drive to do what is right and to pull the blinders off the windows, and let the sunlight spill in.  He's doing it as much for himself as for those he's trying to help.  "Our bosses don't want you at all."  There's a bigger thing at work here.  Marty seems to plead to do the case as much for his respect of Rust as his desire to do this.  But he's not beholden to any interests other than his own, so at least he can be trusted.

In the present day again, we hear that there was a "throwdown" in the jungle back then.  Something with Rust and Marty and taking place in the jungle.  Foreshadowing.  Taking a drive out to a place advertised in a flyer in Dora's bag, we find a burned out old church in the middle of nowhere.  The birds form the symbol drawn on the back of Dora as they take off in the distance.  Mildewed swamp, the church opens to rafters with wholes and jagged lines.  It's quite beautiful really.  Rust pulls aside some hanging swamp vines to a drawing of a woman with antlers on her head.  They were here.

EP3: "The Locked Room"
And now we arrive at episode 3.  Heading to a tent revival of "Friends of Christ," the detectives interview the pastor and a mentally troubled "suspect," and we don't get much out of it.  More sparkling dialogue.  Rust is down on religion and has a pessimistic view of common good.  We learn about Tuttle as a pastor starting a school outreach program for small communities and that Friends of Christ was part of the church end of it.

Marty thinks that Rust has myopia: "Tunnel vision.  [Your] Vision skews, twists evidence.  You're obsessive" Rust turns it back on Marty and Marty denies it.  Rust ends it with a brilliant summary, though in his usually combative way: "People incapable of guilt usually do have a good time."  Home life is fractured for Marty, and it comes to a bit of a head when Marty arrives home and Rust has used the mower he borrowed from Marty to mow Marty's lawn.  He's frustrated and tells Rust never to do it again, a clear sign of his insecurity about the state of his family life.  He's not acting like he should.  Further evidence is it's playing out in his youngdaughter's overly sexualized drawings.  Rust shows us his great skills in the discussion room with suspects.  "You just look them in the eyes.  The whole story's up there... You gotta be honest about what can go on up here," tapping his temple with a knife he's carving beer can people dolls with,"a locked room..."  We'll talk more about the locked room when we discuss the evolutionary aspects of this series.  Suffice it to say, the literary aspects continue to darken.

An insomniac who'd later asked for barbituates from a hooker he thought could help him with the case, Rust decides to do a ton of after hours work on old cases he thinks may be related.  More great dialogue about life and death.  He goes on a double date with Marty and his wife, Maggie.  He still won't drink beer, but he does dance.  Marty runs into his current affair, who is out on a date with another man.  Marty finds out she's over him and he can't handle it.  He gets a couple of drinks and keeps going.  He shows up at her house later and breaks down doors and fights with the guy who he's been replaced with.  We get a good conversation between Maggie and Rust, who have a strange friendship/acquaintance throughout the series.  Getting back to work, Marty is met by Rust who has found "another one."  On their way to look into it they have another great conversation.  The victim's dad tells the detectives about the Ledoux family and her daughter dating one of them, Reggie Ledoux.  She had gone to "Light of Way", a charter school that the Tuttle's Wellspring ministries had started.  Her dad had kept a box of her stuff and reminded Marty of Rust, keeping "his eyes on the crabtraps."  They arrive at the school but Rust doesn't go in because he's called back to the car by Marty.  Marty found out something on his CB.  Ledoux info has come back so they're off on another chase. He spoke to the lawnmower at the school before he went back to the car.  It's too bad he didn't ask more questions.

Back to present day. "And now they saw how easy it was to just let go.. and in that last instant an unmistakable relief, see, because they were afraid and now they saw for the very first time how easy it was to just let go, and they saw-- in that last nanosecond, they saw what they were, that you, yourself, this whole big drama, it was never anything but a jerry-rig of presumption and dumb will and you could just let go.  Finally now that you didn't have to hold on so tight, to realize that all your life-- you know, all your love, all your hate, all your memory, all your pain, it was all the same thing.  It was all the same dream, a dream that you had inside a locked room, a dream about being a person.  And like a lot of dreams, there's a monster at the end of it."

This series has more monsters than just Reggie Ledoux, but let's stop and consider for a moment these concepts of a "monster" and where and how they tie in with this series.  Though germinated in 1764 by Horace Walpolethe horror story worked its way down to Poe, eventually, who was a huge influence on Ambrose Bierce.  "Can Such Things Be?" is a collection of short stories by Bierce in which he mentions Carcosa in one of his short stories, "An Inhabitant of Carcosa." (1886)  9 years later, Robert W. Chambers published "The King in Yellow," the first four stories of which involve Carcosa, borrowing also from another of Bierce's short stories to add to the lore of Carcosa.  This netherworld out of place and time became a huge inspiration for H.P. Lovecraft and a direct inspiration for his Cthulu stories.

Bierce himself, good ole Bitter Bierce, was an atheist of the highest regard.  In an introduction to "The Collected Writings of Ambrose Bierce," Fadiman expounds upon how important Bierce is to the negative worldviews of today, how perfect he heralds the coming of the Nuclear age.  "Indeed, the whole conduct of civilized man since Bierce's presumed death in 1914 is happily calculated to confirm his misanthropy.  Lidice, Belsen, Dachau, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Bikini - all would have afforded him a satisfaction deeper and more bitter than that which he drew from the relatively paltry horrors of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries."

Marty: "What do you got the cross for in your apartment?"  Coehle speaks of his atheism. "It's a form of meditation." "How's that?"  "I contemplate the moment in the garden, the idea of allowing your own crucifixion." "But you're not a Christian.  So what do you believe?"  After a bit of sparring, we arrive at the crux.  "I think human consciousness was a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware.  Nature created an aspect of of nature separate from itself.  We are creatures that should not exist by natural law... we are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, this accretion of sensory experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when, in fact, everybody's nobody."  Zen buddhism meets evolutionary psychology.

It's fitting that this writer would have to pen a horror story then.  So what of it?  "An Inhabitant of Carcosa," speaks of more atmospheric and morbid fantasy, really.  It doesn't strike one as horrific, at least in light of the shock-cinema and torture porn of today.  It tells the story of a man in a place he feels he knows but it is clearly alien to him.  He eventually comes to find he is dead, by stumbling across his own gravestone, from ages past.  Bierce is certainly part of the pemmican that is Rustin Cohle, bitterly cynical to their core.

Chambers adapts this tale's world, and a name from one other Bierce short story to create "The King in Yellow."  Only the first four stories deal with Carcosa, but they're decidedly more creepy.  They deal with a book, appropriately named "The King In Yellow," which figures in each of the four stories and involve the reading of the book which turns them crazy or happens around cataclysmic events of the characters' lives.  There's some atmospheric horror, couched in solid storytelling which lends credence to the depth of terrible things that happen.  Some think they're the King, or they're helping the King, or the King brings death for them or a loved one, or for the entire cosmos.

We see filmic echoes of Southern Gothic from as far back as 1941's under-appreciated Swamp Water, the opening scene of which had a zoom-out from a cross with a skull on top of it.  Jean Renoir confirms his status here of a top-flight auteur.  The language is similar as well, but of course the 70+ years of fine-tuning has added quite a polish to the genre.  They talk about killing cats and torturing them in True Detective, and in Swamp Water, the townspeople gather up kittens to put them in a bag and throw them in the swamp.  Cats aren't welcome in the South on film, and the homicidal triangle often finds one or two sides very easily.  A killer with a soft spot hides in the swamp, and overwhelms a young man looking for his lost dog.  We get an interesting picture of the south here.

Many people were satisfied, nay, ecstatic at Phil Ridley's "The Reflecting Skin," but it didn't feel quite right when I saw it a few years back.  Certainly, after "True Detective," the film genre of Southern Gothic has gotten a new rail spike and everything seems paltry in comparison  The depth and breadth of literature is mind boggling and it opens the series to a large amount of interpretations.  I'm looking forward to peeling back the skin a bit to find new growth beneath it, no matter how painful or agonizing it can be.
 
*This is Part 1 of a Series of Articles about Pizzolatto and Fukunaga's True Detective.

References
Film
-Castle of Otranto1977Svankmajer, viewable here
-The Reflecting Skin, 1990, Ridley
-Swamp Water, 1941, Renoir
-True Detective, Episodes 1-8, 2014, Fukunaga.

Literature/Websites
-Ambrose Bierce, at Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambrose_Bierce
-Ave Maria, at Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hail_Mary
-Bierce, Ambrose. 1910.  Can Such Things Be?
-"The Castle of Otranto," at Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_of_Otranto
-Chambers, Robert W. 1895.  The King in Yellow.
-de Waal, Franz. 2005.  Our Inner Ape.
-Dissanayake, Ellen. 1988.  What is Art For?
-Edgar Allan Poe, at Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Allan_Poe
-The Handsome Family, at Rateyourmusic, https://rateyourmusic.com/artist/the_handsome_family
-Horror Fiction, at Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horror_fiction
-H.P. Lovecraft, at Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._P._Lovecraft
-Jean Renoir, at Imdb, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0719756/?ref_=tt_ov_dr
-Macdonald Triad (Homicidal Triad),  at Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homicidal_triad
-Pinker, Steven. 2009.  How the Mind Works
-Nic Pizzolatto, at Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nic_Pizzolatto
-Robert W. Chambers, at Wikipedia, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0726000/?ref_=tt_ov_dr

Music
-"Far From Any Road," 2003, from the album "Singing Bones" by The Handsome Family

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Stuck in the Basement: An Evolutionary Reading of (Some Films by) Roman Polanski

Stuck in the Basement: An Evolutionary Reading of (Some Films by) Roman Polanski

To say that Roman Polanski is a controversial figure is not enough.  It's admitted that he had sex with a minor (most likely consensual - if a 13 year old can legally consent to something like that).  He never served any time for it.  His wife was murdered by one of the most notorious killers or those around him of all time.  Perhaps THE most known.  He's made some incredible films.  ChinatownThe PianistRosemary's BabyKnife in the WaterCarnage and Ghost Writer (that this writer has seen).  He's also made a couple of  forgettable, thought admittedly entertaining ones in The Ninth Gate and Frantic.  Bitter Moon stands between these two extremes.  It seems that a film dealing openly with sex and sexuality should pique one's mind who attempts to level the lens of evolutionary psychology at it.  As you will see, this isn't actually the case.

To admit that men are obviously attracted to young women is not enough either.  That being said, Polanski's film which deals most explicitly with sex is a mishmash of ideas and characters that shed no more light on who we really are as a group, and seems strangely ill-equipped to open the debate on niche sexual behavior as well.  Neither his case, the documentary about it, or this film shed much light on human sexual behavior, but perhaps we can glean what radiance is available and point to better examples.

Polanski's attraction to younger women shouldn't shock any of us.  His acting on it is, on the other hand, definitely disturbing.  Bitter Moon deals with a couple that act on anything they feel and a British couple that act on relatively little that they feel, presumably, until the film begins.  Polanski allows for little middle ground.  Why can't we talk about what we feel before and - at times - in place of, acting on it.  Oscar's (Peter Coyote) discussion of his current relationship's past is one way for Nigel (Hugh Grant) to live vicariously, but that isn't always enough.  Here, we see repression of feelings as something that can severely damage ourselves and those around us.

According to people who care about stardom, Polanski didn't care much about his star in Hugh Grant (I'd venture that Peter Coyote was a bit more interesting to him).  What a bizarre film!  A second viewing was necessary to piece together the ideas and guttural reactions.  Oscar needs to tell his story to someone, as perhaps his writing has never been successful enough to find the larger audience that many artists need to reach.  Polanski is jabbing at the sad state of American sexual behavior here.  Even when we find exactly what we want, in a young, beautiful, open-minded woman, we must prod more and more.  Polanski is saying we're fools to go as far as Oscar, and yet Polanski himself has been sensationalized in the press, and his sexual life too is not enough.  The bloody ending hints at a possible future for himself and his wife?

Sadly, the documentary about Polanski's action and its resulting consequences could have been taken from a more historical perspective; we can't yet hope for all documentaries to include an evolutionary approach.  Do those with power, fame, etc often find ways of avoiding punishment after statutory rape?  It's easy to see that they have access to this act more readily, but who is to say about the punishment avoidance?  If we feel the power dynamic and see it objectively in our own society, it seems to be a fairly obvious conclusion.  This most certainly makes none of his actions around this particular case alright.  Here, we probably have a lot of "similarity" in mate selection a relatively low concern for the pursuer; Polanski is "smart" enough to feel slight tug from many social mores.

The film explores faux-bestiality, urolagnia, other salirophilia, and other less bizarre sexual fetishes; Polanski himself explored others.  Men and women seek dominance over one another and other things.  They experience pleasure in "conquering" their EEAs.  The key here is melding this with a socially aware sense of fairness.  If what we're doing harms no one else, and they consent to it, there should be no reason why any sane human could oppose it.  Of course, at what point are we able to consent?  How old must we be to say "yes" or "no"?  These are questions that evolutionary psychology and a study of evolution can't answer; indeed they may point at best to a different time and a different stage of what we are now.  The answers can't be the same in both places until we've dissected the differences.

What Roman Polanski did to the 13 year old girl will always be wrong to this writer.  They will always mar his oeuvre.  Here, we can look back at a different time and stage and proffer an answer.  Ultimately, we have the choice and free will of consciousness.  We can choose to attempt to have sex with minors.  We can murder.  We can do any number of other things that were necessities in the past, thousands of years ago before we set up a scaffolding to build ourselves to more enlightened vantage points.  We can also say no, flip on the light switch, and slog our Sisyphean way out of the basement.

References
Film
Bitter Moon, 1992, Polanski
Carnage, 2011, Polanski
Chinatown, 1974, Polanski
Frantic, 1988, Polanski
Ghost Writer, 2010, Polanski
Knife in the Water, 1962, Polanski
The Ninth Gate, 1999, Polanski
The Pianist, 2002, Polanski
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, 2008, Zenovich
Rosemary's Baby, 1968, Polanski

Literature/Websites
-Hugh Grant Interview, http://www.eclectica.org/v1n7/rigoulot_grant.html
-Roman Polanski, IMDB, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000591/?ref_=nv_sr_3
-Roman Polanski, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Polanski
-Roman Polanski Sexual Abuse Case, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Polanski_sexual_abuse_case
-Statutory Rape, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statutory_rape
-Tate Murders, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Manson#Tate_murders
-The Mating Game Isn't Over: A Reply to Buller's Critique of The Evolutionary Psychology of Mating, Various, http://www.cep.ucsb.edu/papers/DeltonRobertsonKenrick2006BullerReply.pdf

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Running in Place With a Bum Leg: Evolution, Warfare, and The Small Back Room

Running in Place With a Bum Leg:  Evolution, Warfare, and The Small Back Room
"Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place." 
Lewis Carroll

After World War II was over with, we could finally tell the truth about it with our arts.  At the same time that Italian Neorealism was telling the story of the poor masses and their day to day lives, certain films around the the world cast backwards light into the depths of our societies, and especially our societies at war.  Films like Late Spring told the story at home as well as any thus far in the history of film, while one of art cinema's most beloved films, The Third Man, wove a mystery that contains to fascinate.  The widening gyre of what was acceptable as a film continued to elongate, ready to burst at the thin-stretched edges.  Enter The Small Back Room.

History is a tale of battles.  Most of the battles aren't documented as they occurred at a tribal level long before there were any forms of documentation.  Recently, our populations have exploded and we've gone to war in huge groups known as nations.  World War II is by far the most large scale of these wars.  In hindsight, it's difficult to understand how a nation was spellbound by a psychopathic leader, but I'd simplistically argue that 1. The treaty of Versailles at the end of the first World War.  The very concept of history being a battleground of ideas in which the winner of the battle has their history written most loudly seems to be an easy way to summarize history.

Our protagonist, Sammy Rice, has no interest in winners and losers, in beating his chest in dominant ways, or any of the other bizarre testosterone rituals of warfare.  He simply wants to save lives.  He has a bum leg from what seems to be a past military incursion, and he understands the toll of warfare, both physically and especially - as we will come to see - psychologically.  We have a man here who is sensitive and talented, and not content to live in the way many males do.  We also have a man who is struggling with his vices.  Perhaps there is a correlation between these two?

The lush black and white photography, rich characterization, and at times avant-garde use of storytelling draws you into the struggle that Sammy faces day-to-day.  His bitterness toward authority and war create part of the draw toward alcoholism.  Indeed, when our emotions aren't adaptive (as Sammy's are too rich, too vibrant, too complex to be of use in a wartime situation), and he can't buy into simply talking to a controlling wife on telephone day-after-day or focusing on the numbers of war operations, including body counts and slight gains, as his coworkers do, he is forced into dulling his reactions toward this.  Emotions were designed to spark our actions toward certain benefits, and there can be no benefit gained from collapsing in an injured, defeated, bitter, and caustic heap, as Sammy's are wont to do.

The climax is likewise intense, and provides an ample history that follows in films like Paradise Now and The Hurt Locker.  Mentioning these further reminds me of Dil Se.. and Divine Intervention and the relationship between bombs and human love.  The red queen hypothesis is in full affect.

What evolutionary lessons are to be learned here?  The most obvious is that war is huge in our history and will probably - most unfortunately - continue to be so.  Next, we evolved to satisfy our pleasure centers and we've become way too good at it for our own benefit.  We must try to maintain the Greek ideal, the even keel.  Finally, peace, love, and understanding are goals worth seeking out.  We learn lessons too late, and we must deal with damage that makes our learning not only harder to apply but that stands as a constant reminder of our past failings.  This is humanity.


References
Film
Dil Se..., 1998, Ratnam
Divine Intervention, 2005, Suleiman
Late Spring, 1949, Ozu
Paradise Now, 2005, Abu-Assad
The Hurt Locker, 2008, Bigelow
The Small Back Room, 1949, Powell & Pressburger
The Third Man, 1949, Welles

Literature/Websites
-An Evolutionary Perspective On Substance Abuse, Nesse, http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/31367/0000279.pdf?sequence=1
-Discussion, on Snopes.com, of "history is written by the winners," http://msgboard.snopes.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=101;t=000374;p=0
-List of Wars by Death Toll, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_by_death_toll
-The Red Queen hypothesis, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Queen_hypothesis
-The Treaty of Versailles, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Treaty_of_Versailles

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Brief update

I am working on a couple of essays, hoping to share them in the near future.

The first is about Fritz Lang's M, a complex film that turns ideas about civilization and crime on their head. The second is about Turkish film in general and specifically the films of Reha Erdem. As always, there will be humanistic and evolutionary psychology lenses applied.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:A city by the films divided

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Navigating a Familiar Chasm: Evolution and The Documentary Tradition in God Grew Tired of Us

“As a helpless human, I survived by trekking across many punishing landscapes while being bombed by Sudanese air forces, while dodging land mines, while being preyed upon by wild beasts and human killers. I fed on unknown fruits, vegetables, leaves, animal carcasses and sometimes went with nothing for days. At certain points, the difficulty was unbearable. I hated myself and attempted to take my own life. Many of my friends, and thousands of my fellow countrymen, did not make it through these struggles alive.”
-Valentino Achak Deng, Preface to What is the What
”Then, perhaps, when your back is to the wall, you will let loose at last that new violence which is raised up in you by old, oft-repeated crimes. But, as they say, that's another story: the history of mankind. The time is drawing near, I am sure, when we will join the ranks of those who make it.”
-Jean-Paul Sartre, Preface to The Wretched of the Earth
“We will accede to universal rights because power is too fluid in advanced technological societies to circumvent this mammalian imperative; the long-term consequences of inequity will always be visibly dangerous to its temporary beneficiaries. I suggest that this is the true reason for the universal rights movement and that an understanding of its raw biological causation will be more compelling in the end than any rationalization contrived by culture to reinforce and euphemize it.”
-Edward O. Wilson, On Human Nature
“If we could manage to see people on other continents as part of us, drawing them into our circle of reciprocity and empathy, we would be building upon, rather than going against, our nature.”
-Franz de Waal, Our Inner Ape

If we consider God Grew Tired of Us as an archetypal or microcosmic view of human history, things look bleak yet with a slight chance of change. The stressors facing orphaned refugees are going to be extremely difficult at best for “First” world countries to grasp, and terms that social scientists use to consider more Westernized* societies (e.g., schadenfrade, ressentiment, and many others) will appear as an alien lexicon, completely unable to reckon the experiences of the individuals in this particular, non-Westernized society. It is the work of film to establish a linkage with the issue, give it a human face (so that we may feel sym/empathy with those affected), and in a perfect world, hint at what we may do about it.

The history of Sudan is given little recognition in GGTOU, except that we are told about the spread of Islam and of the fractious recent past due to this. Although humans evolved into “modern homo sapiens” in eastern Africa about 250 to 150k years before present (ybp), the first stable society there is still only dated at 60k ybp, which is just 10k years before there were permanent settlements in countries as far away as Australia. Of course the American/Western viewer can more readily relate to the spread of Islam throughout the world during the middle age, but this doesn't give a story which is so common in history its just historical due. Because of this, scenes about the 4th of July and Christmas also don't get their historical due. In a society down near the bottom of the Maslow totem pole, you're forced to pick your God and tenaciously hold these dogmas from birth. You're a member of the black Christian north or the Muslim south. And so the woes about Christmas are given a Christian appraisal, even if pagans partook of these same rituals years before. John is expressing sadness at the loss of Christian values, like holding up a prismatic magnifying glass that was forced upon you and calling out imperfections with a skewed chiaroscuro, unable to pull the lens away and see what the colors really look like. Also absent is the official United States position on the Lost Boys, and what we see is more like democratic nation-building on an individual. This proves slightly dubious as well, as black Christians will naturally accept the reins of another Christian nation, but why do the Muslims of the south not? An interesting documentary would explore, along the lines of Somit and Peterson, why these two religions continue to butt heads in nation after nation.

God Grew Tired of Us (GGTOU) shares a lot with the Grierson/Flaherty school of documentary -making. In his proto-Doc, Flaherty shot Nanook (an eskimo living in the biting cold, in Nanook of the North), giving this cultural lifestyle a human face. Nanook, like many of his culture, died of starvation and so the politicization of film began in that we would see a plight and feel for this plight and potentially do something about it. Few documentaries have really attempted to enable their audience to make concrete steps toward change. This film (GGTOU) adeptly shows the human side of the Lost Boys much better than a lecture or non-fiction book, and this is an effective documentary style. Seeing Daniel, John, and Panther go through the daily routines of refugee camp life, their elation at finding a home in a new place and the chance to set down new roots, and their day to day struggles to fit in and conform to American life. Our emotions run the gamut, from the humor at the question of the dish soap (“is this going to turn everything green?”) to what should be a sincere buyer's remorse at the attempt to explain what a shower was. Its hard to imagine life without a shower in the United States, although as water sources and aquifers dwindle we may crash headlong into that possibility. It is equally hard to imagine citizens of the United States having such a cordial and easy going response to such a drastic change of habiliment. Indeed, they argue about this in the commentary, coming to a non-accusatory point of saying that other people would do the same in a complete cultural immersion.

In these senses, the documentary succeeds admirably. Hopefully this film has sparked the interest in learning more about these atrocities and similar ones all around the globe (Darfur in the same country, for instance). We get a bit of background of the area, and a lot of very real knowledge about the day to day lives of those who have been lost (even if they're all “boys”). What we don't get is a list of links or organizations that we can (snail or e)mail to urge congress. We don't get an ecology of disparity, in which we are able to connect this to very similar things happening on many parts of the globe. Certainly one dvd can't do it all, but many viewers are likely to feel helpless and turned off by this omission.

There's not a doubt in mind that Robert Flaherty would have urged Nanook and his family to leave their harsh climates and come into the fold (of “civilization”, as it were) if he knew that they would perish in a year's time. God Grew Tired of Us is the next step, as it documents the protagonists' movement and highlights the problem. There now needs to be the third step of documentary-making, in which a beleaguered and disinterested American audience is given a toolkit with which they might start fashioning a framework for change, and perhaps a blueprint showing how their lives are connected to the lives they see on the screen.

*Westernized here means European (including Russia and its satellite states) or American, although many countries have a slough of sociological terms that wouldn't apply to a war-ravaged, refugee state.

Filmography
-God Grew Tired of Us, Quinn and Walker, 2006
-Nanook of the North, Flaherty, 1922

Bibliography
-Barnouw, Erik. 1993. Documentary: A History of the Non-fiction Film. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
-Caton, Hiram. 2006. “Evolutionary Constraints on Democratic Nation Building. A review of The Failure of Democratic Nation Building: Ideology Meets Evolution by Albert Somit and Steven A. Peterson. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
-de Waal, Franz. 2005. Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are. New York, Riverhead Books.
-Eggers, Dave. 2006. What is the What. San Francisco: McSweeney's.
-Fanon, Frantz. 1963. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press.
-Wilson, Edward O. 2004. On Human Nature. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Monday, June 29, 2009

La Vie est Belle as Social Document: An Evolutionary Reading

“The aim of the filmmakers was to transform the polemics against the elite into jokes made at the expense of the elite and to make films that appeal to the African masses because they can identify with the characters in them.” - Diawara, pg. 142

The critic Andre Bazin once stated that all films are social documents and this is true in many ways. If all things depicted in the film are an attempt to (re)produce and project reality, at the very least they depict some sort of underlying ideology as to why a member from a civilization at a particular time would attempt to (re)produce and project reality in that particular way. As such, we notice what a film lampoons just as much as what a film tacitly nods toward. In terms of gender and class, La vie est Belle is a great example of this bifurcation.

It has been said that the birth of agriculture may very well have been the birth of hierarchy, or at least the birth of hierarchy writ large. First peoples have chiefs, shamans, leaders, and/or other distinctively assigned positions, but they tend to get less strident the further toward the hunter/gatherer spectrum that they get. If we consider this as a sort of window into societal organization, we could think of a hunter/gatherer society as being very free of class structure and societies like India and the United States as being societies with a high degree of class structure. So where does the Democratic Republic of the Congo fit into this spectrum, at least as seen through La vie est Belle? Perhaps the filmmakers were attempting to show just how much class disparity exists by caricaturing the rich and the poor. Nvouandu, who seems to genuinely represent a good deal of wealth, still interacts and befriends the younger servants and townsfolk. Since the movie is a comedy, we can understand this attempt at levity in the face of great disparity, but again, this attempt has an inherent ideology behind it. We could tell the same stories at the Arc de Triomphe and in Central Park, and despite the lushness of the park, if we were shown any amount of the Park's surroundings or any amount of the Arc's surroundings, we would have an intrinsic appreciation of the two. New York, being an American city, is laid out in a series of grids and matrices, creating this sort of compartmentalized, disconnected vibe. Civic engineers consider this centrifugal planning, as small communities and boroughs extend outward with no real center. Paris, on the other hand, is organized around a center. It is a centripetal design, intended to draw communities inward to unite in a center, as if ventricles were converging in the heart, the seat of convergence. Kinshasa has a clear alliance to the latter structure, as amidst the rickshaws and palanquins, we are navigating just as much with Mercedes Benzes. The rich visit the city centers and market places, just as interested in the wares (or selling them in the common market) as the poor who may be begging for them. And so even as the movie is a critique on wealth disparity, and a cleverly phrased poke at it, we see an underlying value system that still has a more firm grip on equality than the compartmented, distanced, and desensitized audiences of the west, especially the United States.

Gender plays a similar dual role in La vie est Belle. While at one point we are critiquing and laughing at aspects of the movie, there is a certain uneasy ideology at play that we never really get to question. First, the criticisms, which range from ED and machismo to the lack of coyness in female advances. Visiting a witch doctor, Nvouandou tries to dispel his issues with sexual virility, and yet at home, what may potentially be his problems are directed at his first wife. Like a silly bird trying to attract females, his jacket is worn by him and later taken by Kourou with the same purpose. Though to outside audiences this may appear as a poke at society's fixation on fashion, it apparently is a sophisticated urge to steal from the rich, as the real-life, top “Sapeur” ("fashion-conscious youth" who "take pride in wearing the most expensive clothes and shoes, and parading on the sidewalks of the capital cities"), Papa Wemba, plays a good part in setting the fashion tone of his country. Ukadike, in writing of the film, makes a faux pas in assuming that this fashion sensibility may not be a function of wealth, as it absolutely is, and the film makes this fairly clear, even if it seems to nod toward it in a Robin Hood-type manner. Furthermore, he writes of the “dwarf who hawks” shish kebabs as ironic in its dealing with “societal discrepancies” because the “dwarf” is saying the titular “life is rosy” as he watches lovers frolic. Some form of voyeurism is present in human nature (this is a film essay, for instance), and the irony is truly in Ukadike's considering this scene as an ironic societal discrepancy. Diawara also finds this “dwarf” to be a “lonely and unhappy person” (pg. 143), despite the lack of evidence for this. One is reminded of the sort of base, neo-bigoted dealing with achondroplasia that is present in R. Kelly's, “Trapped in the Closet.” It's interesting that in La Vie, the most ridiculously portrayed female is the one who makes advances on Kourou, and later his cousin, as if to say let the man pursue the woman, let's not portray woman's sexuality as having inherent choice. This has plenty of backing in millions of years of evolution, as females had to find males who would nurture the young and produce parental investment, but certainly our societies have come far enough to realize that female choice has as big (or bigger) a part in coupling as male choice? Perhaps, sadly, not. This is an ideology present in human culture, foisted by biological half-truth, and then buttressed by conservative religious dogmas. It's no wonder that the witch doctor is lampooned as if saying that drawing simple, dogmatic truths from tradition to apply to modern situations is limited at best. Amidst all of this, the partially polygynous evolution of humanity, its application in certain ethnic groups, and an African Muslim history of justification are all taken for granted. Unlike the films of Ousmane Sembene, which tend to be a bit more serious in their treatment of polygamy (along with many other themes on display in this film), La Vie est Belle seems to sort of comically lambast this, while winking and nodding toward its acceptance.

Despite its dated vibe, its lack of complete critical appraisal of questionable practices, and a slightly disjointed narrative, this may well be among the most superficially enjoyable and genuinely humorous African films. A good comedy should possess a good deal of social criticism, and this film certainly does. It is interesting to turn an evolutionary eye to African film as it is the place where humans first evolved and where some of the largest crimes in history have been committed. This film shows that it doesn't take the dry, droll tone of documentary film to cinematically approximate and stimulate our concern for and appraisal of our fellow human beings.

Filmography
-La Vie est Belle, Lamy/Ngangura, 1987
-Moolaade, Sembene, 2004
-Xala, Sembene, 1997


Bibliography
-Bazin, Andre. “Film As Social Document.” Film Comment, September/October 2008.
-Diawara, Manthia. 1992. African Cinema: Politics & Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
-Kasinitz, Philip, ed. 1994. Metropolis: Center and Symbol of Our Times. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
-Ukadike, Nwachukwu Frank. 1994. Black African Cinema. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Real Mavericks: Folk Rhetoric in Harlan County, USA

Come, all you young fellers / So brave and so fine
Seek not your fortune / Way down in the mines
It’ll form like a habit / And will sink in your soul
Till the streams of your blood / Runs as black as the coal

Despite what becomes its heavily-vested, partisan approach, Harlan County, USA stands as a folkloric achievement. Though it is a hybrid of sorts, by using ritual, folksong, romanticization, and emphasis on the past, Harlan County becomes its own genre, that of political folklore. Today, while rich, corrupt politicians tout their own “folksiness,” it would be wise to remember this film and what it can teach us about the throngs of “folks” that really populate cities and towns across the United States. As the politically progressive Maverick family of Texas recently complained about the usurpation of their name by conservatives, the streams of miner blood are being co-opted here as well, but in this case to further their own political means.

Musically, Harlan County is rife with folklore. Writing of Give My Poor Heart Ease, Sherman states, “Although technically good, the film is too loosely structured to actually present the role that music plays for more than a few selected members...” (Sherman 1998: 86), and Harlan County could perhaps be seen here as the complete antithesis. The concept of music in HC is a central one, and the film is - though masterfully edited and by no means too dense to be fluid – an exercise in folk rhetoric. It aptly presents the role that music plays for just about all of the protagonists. Many sequences in the film are filled with music. The miners themselves, showing how important a role music plays in their lives, are oft seen singing or playing themselves. Right after the canary calls in the beginning, a rousing tune is struck up and the honorable, hard-working southerner that many of us Americans feel inside of us stands up and takes notice. While the images are of the sparse, hardscrabble lives of the workers and the environment, there is a non-diegetic soundtrack not so much wafting as hurtling through the air. In an environment where every movement and sound must be studied, and our biological ability to use auditory scene analysis is pushed to the forefront in a very survivalist way, it is no wonder the fast picking of banjos, mandolins, and guitars keep our ears attuned with each passing second, with each 64th note. The miner mind has become so attuned to auditory “busyness” that the music of the Kentucky hills, the bluegrass itself is very busy. Later, an old man sings unaccompanied on his porch in his rocking chair. This liminal space, sans picked mellophones, becomes a cry that he is retired and no longer requires the instrumentation to help him survive each and every second underground. Here, with these examples, music and folklore become inseparable.
The movie opens with a shouted, ostensibly common aspect of coal-mining; the canary, in the form and shape of a coal-covered, slightly shrouded man, calls to his co-workers that an explosion is about to occur. This ritual becomes a sort of touchstone for the rest of the film, and sets us up to enter the world of its subjects: the rural, poor masses and the boss and his cronies. Immediately, we flash back with photos of old miners, and voiceovers explaining the historical context of strike in “bloody Harlan.” A ritual only has power in its use to a culture through repetition, and we instantaneously feel that here. Indeed, documentary and journalistic filmmakers, especially in regard to the poor, Appalachian Hillbillybelt, seem to engage in a sort of ritual of their own. Abject poverty, as WE see it, finds a willing demographic in many people not living there. Barbara Kopple and Nancy Baker talk about their process of creation for Harlan County in their film-length Criterion commentary from two equally-fused angles; that of the actual process – their lack of money, film, bias – and their singular preoccupation with story. Baker speaks of first seeing it at a theater in New York, and noticing just how involved people got “with the story.” As we can see stories of poor vs. rich, exploited vs. exploiter, it is not difficult to feel an overwhelming sense of something approximating déja vù. This is where filming and viewing become ritual of their own, a sort of cultural meme in which compassion and schadenfreude mingle.

“The special success of Harlan County, however, is that even though it is documentary in format – and a “political documentary,” at that – it has much of the dramatic power and emotional impact of a fiction film, thus accounting for its potential to reach a general audience.” (Crowdus 1977: 564) This romanticizing of a strike storyline, with one side as inevitably heroic and never fully winning, and the other side as inherently cruel and bestial, is a very important sort of folkloric device. There can be no question as to the success of this Academy Award-winning piece. The folkloric interpretation is “[e]xplicitly or implicitly, self-understanding by means of understanding others.” (Sherman 1998: 2) Here, with this film, we are understanding ourselves by understanding others in a very dichotomized fashion. Social theorists such as Saussure and Adorno argue that capitalism creates many false dichotomies – indeed, post-structuralism argues that many of the classic black/white polarizations merit a good deal of blending, and this is probably something along the lines of the Crowdus' critique when he writes of the climax, “which to a certain extent opens the film to the charges of emotional voyeurism so often leveled against TV news journalism – obscures the importance of other events...” (Crowdus 1977: 567) Sherman writes, “folklore film and video highlight this interpretive function” (Sherman 1998: 2) where this “emotional voyeurism” can be seen in much on television, even journalism aside. These have both exacerbating and enlightening side effects. So we have a highly evocative set of images which helps us define ourselves as pro-worker or pro-owner. Kopple romanticizes, focuses on several individuals as “representative figure[s] for a culture,” (Sherman 1998: 7)) - in this case, the coal-mining hillbillies of Eastern Kentucky – and her participant observation style which John Sayles, in an interview on the criterion disc, says proved to the people there that they could trust her. All of these conventions have their documentary root in the originator of the genre, Robert Flaherty, and, as Sherman states on page 7, “are the elements of a filmic model that folklore documentary filmmakers emulated.”

The film evokes the importance of the past by contrasting today with yesteryear, in that there is a smattering of archival footage of a similar situation from the 1930s. Though this underscores the importance of the past, Kopple also has many instances in the film where the “characters” themselves mention this. Their experiences are thusly contextualized and reinforced. The film however, doesn't serve to diminish the power of the present, but rather strengthens it. It pulls its might straight from Nietzsche's philosophy of history – the past matters only in how it can motivate us today.

There can be no doubt that Kopple is documenting these people as rural and important for it. Indeed, when the film goes to a rally of mineworkers in the city, it seems a bit of pleading for the city dwellers amongst us to connect our mutual plights and stand together. In the first year in the United States, 2008, where more people dwell in cities than rural communities, we start to sense nostalgically that Kopple's film is even more past-centered, despite it's political preoccupation with the present. Her narrative style, despite politics, is slow and methodical – one could argue, “homey.” She lived with people for 4 years in order to produce a sub-2 hour documentary. In a crazy, hectic, computer-saturated, profit and time-obsessed nation, the Kopple style alone evokes a desire to return to simpler days, something most folklorists – nay, social scientists in general – would smile at.
In its portrayal of the constant struggle between worker and owner, Harlan County partially uses the mechanics of folklore. Not intentionally rushing to save any particular part of hillbilly culture, the film nonetheless has a certain amount of latent urgency. Similar to the Red Queen Effect in evolution, where species must run non-stop, as fast as possible to keep up with the competition from their own and predatory/parasitic species, here there is depicted a certain amount of this. It is no wonder that social Darwinists, who certainly side with Basil in this film, will mime “survival of the fittest,” and probably is a counter-motivation behind the humanistic, full portrayal of the workers, and not their bosses. Here, Kopple falls into the trap discussed by Weinberger: “They have typical members. We do not. They are unusual[ly greedy, stupid, and slovenly], but can be comprehended. We are usual[ly just, benign, simply fighting for what is duly ours], but ultimately incomprehensible [due not to our vast complexity but the immediate and immense threats to our survival].” (Weinberger 1992: 58) The owners aren't portrayed with nearly as much depth as the strikers. Here is Godard's “lie” of editing, or a self-admitted bias – of course owners have depth and a personality every bit as subjective and potentially interesting as a miner (or even more), but the documentary maker, especially the political one, must make the unusual seem usual. The folklorist, to the contrary, doesn't make anything. The things are made and the folklorist strives to be a clear window, both of this world, and of a filmmaking world.

As an interesting aside, John Sayles was interviewed on the Criterion disc about Harlan County, USA. His 1987 film, Matewan, deals directly with the Matewan massacre of the 1930s, and is something that added more mystique to Barbara Kopple's approach. Sayles' film contains some similar music but in a more polished and glossy overall vibe. Both films contain musicians playing on-screen. If we consider western music as an attempt to progress in skill toward perfection, do we not consider folk music the same way? Probably not, but there is that secret inner analysis when we watch film. Chronologically our brains place simple and off-key well before slick and compressed. When we consider Matewan and Harlan County then, we see a progress of time and a regression of sound quality. In this sense, Harlan County becomes more folkloric still, as she seems to put more emphasis on spontaneous song and less skilled musicianship. This romanticizes the past simply because in our brains, while considering coal-mining music, Harlan County seem chronologically older, even if it's about a much more recent event. Rather than post-modernly collapsing time, as in Gardner's films, this becomes folkloric in that it puts higher value on the past and works in a reverse vortex of Gardner (Weinberger 1992: 160-161).

“What I'm really saying is that those people who think they own the city—who are the wealthy—while they're at sleep during that night air, there's forty radio stations transmitting Huayno music” (Sherman 1998: 91), and this could just as easily symbolize the protests of Harlan County miners against Carl Horn, Basil, and the others, “who are the wealthy.” In Harlan County, music goes from a sort of symbolic underground railroad – see Sherman's discussion of John Cohen – to an overt form of protest. Gone are the days of Victor Jara being butchered to quell the Allende uprising, or so we'd like to hope. One man does lose his life here, and its better to remember Hugh O'Connor before we jump to such conclusions, let alone other places in the world where music feeds the struggle of small groups against large, of guerilla against State. There is an unresolved note that never reaches cadence here: no matter how much money you have, we harken back to the conversation between miner and police officer, when the miners bring their strike to the city. “See that electric light there (pointing, officer looks up to follow line of gesture)? These people don't know that one of us dies everyday for that, everyday in the mines.” No matter what injustices are dealt with, we are quickly brought to the fore of this high, lonesome sound. We're reminded of our own mortality, and of the humanity that struggles daily to place that anxiety in a lockbox, to rise out of bed and fight back the cresting of the wave. If that isn't folklore's goal, than what is it?

Though ultimately it is difficult to argue against Kopple's bias, for one from a working family especially, we must be able to see it, name it, and realize that our experience of the realities that we are so luckily able to perceive here is at times clouded and opaque. In the ragged battle for meaning, however, we have to realize that being scientists at times must take a back seat to our inner aesthete. The beauty here isn't in establishing eternal truths – though that may be arguable to a degree – but in depicting humanity. The human experiment is an ongoing one, and at times, otherwise quiet, downtrodden, or dispossessed peoples will stop being Sisyphus and become bold, daring Icarus – we may touch the sun but nobody gets out alive. The wax will, alas, finally melt. A banal, but true aphorism can sum this up better than a standard essay conclusion: Einstein's “imagination is more important than knowledge,” and this is Kopple's fine-tuned and folkloric message. The real mavericks out there already know it.

Filmography
-Harlan County, USA, Barbara Kopple, 1976.
-Matewan, John Sayles, 1987.

Bibliography
-Crowdus, Gary. 1977. "Film Comment."
-Sherman, Sharon. 1998. Documenting Ourselves: Film, Video, and Culture. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky.