Odds & Ends

Brian Ulrich

Brian Ulrich

There is a very good piece here, by Marc Parry on Alice Goffman’s book on crime in the U.S. (this is Erving Goffman’s daughter) “On The Run”.


This serves as a good intro to the topic of the white liberal denial of inequality. And perhaps no single story better encapsulates the criminalizing and loathing of black people by the state, and that denial by a large chunk of the white populace, as the Renisha McBride killing.

From Joel Reinstein:

“A 19-year-old African American woman is dead for the “crime” of asking for help after a car accident in a predominantly white suburb of Detroit.

Renisha McBride was shot in the head with a shotgun in the early morning hours of November 2. She had been in a car crash and–with her cell phone dead and bleeding from a wound on her head–was seeking help from residents.

According to reports, 54-year-old Theodore Wafer shot Renisha through the screen door of his home. Wafer didn’t call police until an hour later–at which point, he claimed to have fired in self-defense. He then changed his story, claiming the shotgun went off by accident–only to change it back again when prosecutors filed murder and manslaughter charges against him.”

And those charges weren’t filed for thirteen days. The case brings to mind, rightly, the Trayvon Martin case. There are so many elements in here, starting with the fact that people keep loaded shotguns handy for “self protection”. The constant refrain of media, both in news and in fiction, in TV and film, is about the threat of crime. The constant depiction of muggings and car jackings, of home invasions, etc. And yet, crime statistics are down. Fear, however, is up. In fact violent crimes are down to their lowest rate in forty years. Also, death of police officers is at an almost all time low. One statistic however does warrant mentioning:

According to a 2001 report from UNICEF, the United States has the highest rate of deaths from child abuse and neglect of any industrialized nation, at 2.4 per 100,000 children; France has 1.4, Japan 1, UK 0.9 and Germany 0.8. According to the US Department of Health, the state of Texas has the highest death rate, at 4.05 per 100,000 children, New York has 2.46, Oregon 1.49 and New Hampshire 0.35. (from the always useful Wikipedia)

Carlos Schwabe

Carlos Schwabe

The economic brutality of society today has reached a qualitatively new level of crisis. Something like 80% of U.S. citizens are now economically insecure and there is a staggering growth to the new category labled the ‘working poor’. The underclass, white, black, brown, are facing a growing police state that wants nothing more than to help fill those privitized prisons, because as Alice Goffman points out above, prison is a solution to black poverty (and soon to all poverty, because trust me, debter’s prison is just around the corner). So, I suspect a generalized fear that fixes on certain target enemies as circumstance and situation provide. For many it is black people. Black people, especially teens, in hoodies.

I want to link this to the way narrative works, and to aesthetics, because I think how we process narrative in art, figures into how we process daily life. I continue to have discussions with people, and friends, about Act of Killing. This is relevant here because of the aeshtetic distance that all orientalist depictions engender. Oppeheimer, who made this quasi documentary, is from the U.S. I continue to hear, from producers Errol Morris and Werner Herzog too, how “surreal” it is, how it is not like anything else. I wonder if this film were about the Balkans, if surreal is an adjective that would be in play? If it were about white people from a culture must closer to U.S. culture. It is the very unfamiliarity of Indonesia that allows for this manufacturing of the ‘strange’. It is a manufactured style embedded in the film. The second problem of course is the limited discussion, in the film, of U.S. Imperialism and particularly U.S. complicity in the massacres.

Alan Woods makes a cogent observation here (in an article about Indonesia, circa 1965):

“The whole lesson of the post-war period is that the elementary tasks of the bourgeois (democratic) revolution in backward countries cannot be solved on the basis of capitalist property relations. The weak bourgeoisies of the ex-colonial countries are too inextricably bound up with international finance capital to carry the nationalist revolution through to the end. Nor can they compete with their advanced industrial competitors for world markets. As a result, there is a constant deterioration of their economic status vis-a-vis the advanced capitalist countries.”

In other words, western Capital exploits and imposes colonial relations on developing countries, even those who may have adopted some form of socialism. The quality of life is degraded, poverty follows, and usually some form of client government imposes authoritarian rule. This is the historical backdrop, in a sense, to Act of Killing. The CIA was actively involved in the overthrow of Sukarno.



Here, from the MLM Revolutionary Study Group:

“One of the greatest crimes of the 20th century was committed in Indonesia. On October 8, 1965, right-wing mobs ransacked the offices of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) and its mass organizations in Jakarta, the capital city. Ten days later, in densely populated Central Java, army paracommandos under the direction of pro-American General Suharto led the attack on the PKI. Tens of thousands of PKI cadre and supporters were rounded up at night, detained, and executed. Anti-communist youth groups were supplied with weapons by the army and sent out to murder PKI members and supporters in thousands of towns and villages. In one area of Central Java known as a stronghold of the party, one-third of the population died in the massacre.”


“In the 1990s, some details of the U.S. hand in the massacre became known as several former State Department officials admitted their role publicly. Political officers at the U.S. embassy in Jakarta handed the Indonesian army lists of PKI leaders in unions, peasant and student organizations that it had compiled. From this, Indonesian army intelligence was able to create a “shooting list” of 5,000 PKI leaders. In the weeks and months that followed, the U.S. embassy and the CIA’s intelligence directorate in Washington D.C. checked off the names as they were “eliminated.” According to Robert Martens, a former member of the U.S. embassy’s political section who had spent two years compiling the lists: indones.gifAs the anti-PKI bloodbath was just getting underway, the U.S. provided essential logistical equipment to General Suharto’s forces. These included light aircraft, jeeps and most importantly, hundreds of the highest-powered mobile radios available at that time. The radios were secretly flown into Indonesia at the last minute by U.S. planes based at Clark Field in the Philippines. They plugged a major hole in army communications by enabling units in Java and the outer islands to talk directly with Suharto’s command (KOSTRAD) in Jakarta. These radios were monitored by the U.S. National Security Agency throughout the massacre.”

and here is a link to a short piece by John Pilger:

Nothing about the nature of the PKI is in the film, the class relations between the army and the bourgeois and the Stalinist(ish) PKI. No, just the “surreal” violence, as if it dropped from the surreal Asian skies. Nothing of what the United States expected from Suharto, nothing of the flawed policies of Sukarno, and really, nothing of even the colonial history of the Islands that make up Indonesia. No, only two low level thugs recreating their violence as if in a Bollywood spectacle.

What does this have to do with Renisha McBride? The answer is: sort of everything. The West has created an idea of the world that is given expression in film and TV. It repeats this in news and education, but clearly the more influential organ is the culture industry. Alongside the heroic military, is the demonizing of various manufactured enemies. Communism, Serbs, Russians, intellectuals often, etc. And, black teenagers. The inner city (read Detroit for right now) is just the domestic version of Iraq, or Indonesia or Viet Nam, or Cuba or Venezuela. One of the keys to the current Islamophobia is the exaggeration of difference. Veils, or robes or head coverings, and then the religion itself, Islam. Most Americans, I’m guessing, imagine Arab countries as being a lot like what they see in Indiana Jones or Prince of Persia. It really isn’t so very different from the creation of this picture of a lawless violent gang ridden “inner city” (i.e. place where black people live) or barrio (which is painted in much the same way as the black inner city, but with different style codes). And the most common currency for these portraits is violence. The marketing of black culture, often owned by white run corporations, advances much the same image. The causes of inner city infrastructures deteriorating are erased. Poverty is largly fetishized, and reduced to signifiers… welfare mothers, gang bangers, or prisoners. In fact, as I said above, violent crime is actually down. Police brutality is way up, however. Crime could, tomorrow, come to a total halt, and the image wouldn’t change. And I realize more and more that the genre of crime narrative, with its deep structural and allegorical links to both societal history, and our own psychoanalytic origins and growth, has been sort of appropriated by the kitsch mainstream media. But the fact remains, white fear is largely produced via the culture industry. The production of emotional instability, and of scapegoating. Ted Wafer no doubt, NO DOUBT, hated black people, and blamed them for, I dont know….not getting a raise? Not getting a hard on? His receeding hairline?

Suharto & Clinton, 1997

Suharto & Clinton, 1997

Theodore Wafer is a 54 year old airport worker from Michigan. His ex-girlfriend says he’s a jerk, and a heavy drinker, but not a racist. Well, OK. It is revealing I suppose that toxicology reports were released on Ms McBride, indicating she had been drinking, but nothing I can find on Ted Wafer. I mean, maybe he was stone sober. I keep coming back to the fact he had a shotgun handy. And I can only guess images of various TV crime shows passed through his, um, brain, before he decided this 19 year old young woman was a threat to his life. Also, apparently he shot her in the back of the head. Let me add, recently in Los Angeles, the police have started doing random alcohol testing down in the Mexican and Central American areas near downtown. No random booze tests in Beverly Hills, none in Bel Air or Pacific Palisades. Just down where poor people live. I will go to the mat predicting not a single, NOT A SINGLE resident of BH or Bel Air complains about this failure to random test in their area.


Life is increasingly experienced as your own private TV pilot. How does that intersect with this rising indifference and even cruelty to children? There is an emotional cut off. I think, I believe, many feel this. I feel it when I’m in the U.S. I see too many glazed over eyes, and that odd quality of voice and gesture not linking up (George Bush Sr. was the most public example of this). Life is a badly looped low budget feature. I think for many, children are not like those found in movies. Children are messy, noisey, they get sick, they complain, and this emotional malfunctioning in the West means some empathic connection is lost. All depictions of life are presented against a white back drop. Everything in a sense is whitened. Propaganda trains people, it normalizes their oppression, it blames the poor for their poverty, for their desperation. To what degree these constant accusatory narratives from Hollywood serve to further the madness that is a by product of poverty, I don’t know. I saw it with my parents. I grew up with welfare, and with the endless class humiliations that doing without and being visibly without incur. What this does to young parents is probably not given enough thought. It is a broken society, on all fronts. Self loathing is a predictable consequence, for many. Various deflected, or projected or introjected psychological maladies are to be expected. One cannot ignore the images of success, of privilege. When Jay Z is held up as a model, and not Harry Belefonte, then the result is going to be internal contradiction. Black people are essentially unable to shop at some high end stores now — which fact has not stopped Jay Z. from continuing his partnership with Barney’s. The poor, mostly minorities, are stopped and frisked in most U.S. cities now, either officially or unofficially. They are depicted over and over as thieves, as unstable parents, as aggressive and violent. The truth is, most people I know living in the inner cities of the U.S. live in constant fear. Fear of the police. They are afraid everytime they leave the house, and every time their children leave the house. Cops bully, and harass, and often abuse those in poor areas. They even do it to white poor, but it is more acute in black and brown areas. And this population sees the same marketing campaigns that everyone sees. How is it processed from below? Its a significant question. I know, personally, it took me years, well, decades, to lose my sense of inferiority. It is a schizoid thing, knowing you’re smart, or talented, or have potential….and knowing also, you don’t belong. I saw it in students all the time.

The whitening of even black culture — those areas intersecting with corporate marketing, the saturation of TV anyway, reflects a form of orientalizing on a domestic population, a population increasingly treated like a problem, a surplus labor force where there is no labor, and one that culturally has been distanced as hyper violent, sexually unbalanced and hyper potent, and inherently criminal and lacking in the Protestant/Calvinist values to do with hard work.

The orientalist trends in Hollywood are almost indelible. They go back to Rudolph Valentino. And few so called third world films manage to avoid a kitsch form, because of their preoccupation with only their position vis a vis the former colonizer. In the way Edward Said, speaking of Israeli and Palestinian artists, were concerned with only “origins…history of suffering… [and] need to survive.” The countless bad sentimental film from 3rd world countries is endless. Film festivals love this stuff, liberal and white audiences in the West love it enough to form a niche market for it, and so the Arab world or south Asian world, or South America, remain fetishized and reified constructs, with a western template imposed on the work, informing the voices. Arabs, especially perhaps Arab women, exist in narrative only so far as their interlationship with the West (even if in revolt) allows them. Arab women almost cannot exist outside their head scarves. Arab men outside their evil cunning fanaticism. Asians are either martial artists, or they are owners of laundries.

Nicki Minaj

Nicki Minaj

So, when one approaches Act of Killing, and finds it somehow compelling for what it says about “us”, to paraphrase Errol Morris (and about ten or so movies reviewers) the entire fabric of history goes un-addressed. The entire landscape of corporate domination of culure goes un-addressed. And no, nobody has to make a movie about any particular thing. I am only talking about the movie Joel Oppenheimer DID make. The one that gives voice to two low level death squad executioners from the Indonesian massacres of the PKI communists. The voices of these killers are not given much, in fact almost no historical context. The problem with this is that it closely resembles the way black teenagers exist history free in most TV cop shows. Or the way the ‘barrio’ is depicted in almost all corporate film and TV.

It is a tricky thing of course, but I am always reminded of Charles Burnett’s 1977 film Killer of Sheep. It IS possible. The authority structure, military or police, and the white world view, doesn’t ‘have’ to be the default setting.

Which leads perfectly into a brief discussion of The Counselor.

It is useful to read the endlessly bad reviews of Ridley Scott’s film version of the Cormac McCarthy script of The Counselor. Before I get to the reasons for thinking this is an at least interesting, if not somewhat more than just another disposible crime film, I’d like to quote Katey Rich’s review for The Guardian:

“With most of the action takes place offscreen the characters do a lot of talking, but it’s mostly in metaphor and grand pronouncements that take nearly the entire scene to untangle. And with new characters constantly arriving and disappearing, and too much time given to tangential moments like Diaz’s attention-grabbing sex scene atop a car windshield, it takes constant work to know where the story is going – work that this fairly rote and bloody saga doesn’t ever earn.

The language grabs so much attention that it’s difficult for director Ridley Scott to make his presence felt, and he largely underserves the gorgeous scenery and brutal morality of McCarthy’s script…”

Now, I find this a very revealing set of comments. And I could quote countless other reviews that say much the same thing. Like Dan Callahan;

“This is a movie that does not seem overly interested in its own plot, which involves a drug deal gone bad. What it is interested in, unfortunately, is lots of inert scenes in which McCarthy allows his characters to pontificate at length about Big Issues like death, love, money, despair, family and many other things.”

So, yes, most things in this film take place off screen. Yes, its not much interested, if at all, in plot. Yes, characters talk about ‘big issues’ {sic} like life and death. What is funny here is that these are exactly the things that make the film compelling. Now, I don’t want to tell you this is a quote close quote “good film”, whatever that means. It is a Ridley Scott film, sadly, before it is anything else. Now, I also won’t tell you that the writing is anything close to the quality of Blood Meridian. But it certainly rises above the level of 99% of what Hollywood produces. I’ve already heard the predicatable cries of racism from the left, and mainstream critics call it camp or over the top, and in a way both these acusations could be leveled at Scott more than McCarthy. But both are wrong. Maybe I’m just standing up for screenwriters, but Scott is what I think of as a good hack. He knows more or less where to point the camera and he remembers to take the lens cap off. But, the script is really about a rich white elite class who live off the toil of cheap labor from the South. Their ruthlessness enables a drug trade fueled by corrupt DEA agents, the CIA, and local law enforcement, and primarly by the consumers of expensive illegal narcotics. It is not a morality tale, however. It is a mystery play. It is close to one of those digressions you find in Melville, in both Moby Dick and even more perhaps, The Confidence Man. It is without back story, and it only an examination of the mechanics of a business soaked in cruelty and blood. This is not about why, it is about how. The white north of expensive cars, of a white criminal justice system housing black and brown prisoners, and of a ruined landscape that is the physical and psychological slurry sludge of the narcotics trade.

The Counselor, dr. Ridley Scott 2013

The Counselor, dr. Ridley Scott 2013

The basic problem with The Counselor is that Scott thinks he is making a narco crime film. The script is a sort of small poem about indulgence and moral weakness, about the selfishness of privilege and about the white colonial mythologizing of Mexico as a shadow land of darkness. For like most of McCarthy’s writing, the allegorical raises its ghastly head, as if it is that which none of us can escape. There are small asides within asides, but looming over it all is a grand dark cloud of carnage and retribution. To confuse the point of view is probably inevitable for a lot of the left. And it is easy enough to just be swamped by the movie star turns, the awful Javier Bardem, the equally awful Penelope Cruz, and the somehow always miscast Brad Pitt. Yes, they are dreadful. The film therefore sinks into something akin to parody in places, it’s true. Still, the dialogue is eerie and peculiar and at times it addresses what is off screen in a dynamic that provides a space for contemplation. There are fleeting suggestions of previous guilt for this lawyer, the counselor, his casual tone in dealing with capital crimes. Rosie Perez is wonderful as the jailed mother. There is another brief scene when a former client approaches this laywer, at a restaurant, and drops more hints. About what? We don’t know. We know, we believe, that his professional life is cynical and only a means to a large income. But at certain moments…the oddly placed vigil for victims of cartel violence for example, or the Bruno Ganz scene with the diamonds… something unsettling occurs. The poetics of a modern tragic. The offstage appears, the traces of a long history. A long historical shadow. I can hear the voices of the cynical and jaded even as I write this, and I feel fatigue almost trying to point out that those unsettling qualities deserve attention, and are worth thinking about. The fate of this film is no doubt going to be that of weird minor cult classic, and in thirty years someone will notice what is actually very worthy in all this.

My friend and cinephile Joe Nava wrote me this about the film:

“One more note, the counsellor’s journey into Mexico really strikes at something in me that I can’t quite place. The line about shooting first and turning on the light later resonates with me. Walking the narrow streets at night of the small colonial town where my father was born, a town that has now been invaded and controlled by the Zetas cartel, I’ve noticed the fear of turning off the lights in the older generation. I’m about to become an American citizen at the end of this year, and I’ve been contemplating everything Mexican and non-Mexican about me the last few weeks. The philosophy reflected in the Mexican cartel stems from our (Mexican men) innate fear of buying into a life of crime that leaves our women and children helpless. We kill our women because we can’t protect them. We kill men as a way to assuage that guilt.”

Ruben Ortiz Torres

Ruben Ortiz Torres


  1. Molly Klein says:

    Well that’s great…again there is so much to respond to…

    There is increasingly this simple flood of persuasion by the endless flood of imagery. It does’t much matter whhat the narratives are except they manipulate bodies into certain states (terror, lust, relief) for the bombardment of certain images. It is alll about defining whiteness (as a pov possible to access) as a species against these frightening tribes. I would disagree that teh allegory of McCarthy somehow bars the racism – racism in this kind of product is allegory. The asian or african image is presented as the allegorical figure of something or other, and very often of some aspect of “us’ (white bourgeois, lErrol Morris)…that figure is “our” “dark side”…here this asian is our inscrutable fiendish cunning cruelty, there that african american is “our” this or that…and race itself is an allegorical figure, allegorizing categories humanity only recently understood to be ideological, reified abstractions of processes an relations

    But yes this seems so important now,thiis nuture of white identity and white fear in order to provoke that self pityiing violence of the Aryan, wronged an threatened by evil or defective types on all sides whoch also serve as this gallery of perverse funhouse self portraits – this solipsism in the Hegelian mold delivers television-induced Mean World Syndrome as a pseudo introspection and then “we” congradulate oourselves on seeing in the debased and villified Others whose images have been fashioned for our entertainment “our own” sins and flaws (and justifications for violence”. “We’re no better than the brutes!’ is an epiphany we congratuale ourselves for. This introspection and self criticism is (as Zizek endlessly explains) another feature of white supeeiority

    And ‘for our entertainment’ is not trivial – because that’s all this is and yet the professional critics and sociologists devoted to examining this product are incapable of questioning it below the most superficial levels. Because it is entertainment, that’s why we consume these 90-120 minutes standardized audovid streams, why we watch them in order, why we then justify the time spent. This kind of stimulation to the senses that enduces a passive trance is the worst form for the delivery of the kind of educatiion the professional consumers claim to get – for example the education in imperialism or exploitation or the relations of mafias to “legit” finance. We’re not watching these standardized emotionally manipultive stimulating products reallu to learn or ponder the ostensdible topics of their narratives. And the mass media doens’t provide us with this to school us in organized crime and the corruption of beaureacracies, but to train outr bodies in fear and disgust reponses, and gratifucationsm and sadism, and to train our bodies’ irrational responses to inform and mould and control our rationality. It;s important that white people feel a certain anguish at the photo of the little missing white giirl and somthing very different, or almost nothing, at the news of the shooting MacBride, even white people who know they should feel the same anguish. He shot her verypossibly without any fear at all but wiht contempt, feeling it didnt matter, her life was cheap, This is the most visible result of this bombardment of iimagery (regardless of the narrative rack on which theses vivid pictures and sounds are hung) – some life is not only disgusting/alien/repulsive but very very cheap to white people and to everyone seduced/forced to participate in the pov of whiteness.

  2. John Steppling says:

    well, yeah, I expect he didnt “really” feel fear. Wafer that is. He was feeling some simulacra of fear in a sense. Again, he was in a movie. This is what they do in movies. Zimmerman was the same really. They construct some subject position of scalp hunter or vigilante, some comic book creation. I think the problem is that narratives do matter…….but the narratives being consumed are not based on anything except these very circumscribed story points, or this ideological backdrop. To that degree they dont matter because really, they are all the same. So yes, they train people in the officially sanctioned response. This is that idea of agreement, too. Its amazing to me how people are so ready to jump on various bandwagons of agreement.

    So the trope is always about white feelings. How the white people feel. And then you have these endlessly self congratulatory stories …. how this certain class feels about this or that.

    Now, the mccarthy is going to be one of those things the left simply refuses to see. Ive read all of it already. And its troubling because the criticism betrays an inability to distinguish that kind of writing from the other stuff. And when you fail to do that you engage in this authoritarian sort of aeshtetic police action. Its what i keep on about all the time. And its really regressive, horribly regressive in fact,. Because if you see it as ALL the same, that allegory is impossible (for thats whats being said) then you are contributing to the very thing you claim to attack. This is another sort of odd side bar effect of zizek and why all those followers of his are so problematic. They infect the discourse on several levels that cant be escaped. But that said…..the McBride killing, since Im using that example, is the perfect example …. because there will be this endless litany of justifications or quasi apology, based on black on black crime or some other fiction. That this population, the poor living in this socially abandoned city centers (but its true of poor rural areas too) are never seen as under siege. They are never seen as terrified. I mean the police shoot black kids on a weekly basis, actually more. I know parents terrified, and living in this state of almost panic. Meanwhile they are invisible to the media.

  3. Molly Klein says:

    I don’t think its fair to say applying the same kinds of criticism to things you personally like as you apply to things you dislike is authoritarian policing. The hobbesian vision of The Road is a faux literary evocation at length of precisely the television’s Mean World Syndrome’s worldimage. A zombie movie’s picture of humanity and history. Craft levels being high only make the packaging, the delivery system to the soul more effective. In my opinion.

    I think we have to investigate more how capitalist era’s supposedly dissident culture producers managed to grant a panache to exaggerated misanthropy even greater than Catholicism, the demoting of loving eroticism to the realmm of lies for idiots and the elevation of eroticised violence as truth etc. Giroux has a lot on this with regard tothe mass cullture but at some point the elite culture began to serve the mass culture almost like a minor league. I think in the 80s when there was no more counterculture but there was an ersatz countercultre that became a force for gentrificatiion. But this is also when the pseudo indy films arose which were alll about making genre films especially crime, mystery, thriller that were self consciously incorporating the criticism of the classic noirs…that were coding themselves with the iconography of psychoanalysis etc to supply that added pleasure to the culturally leading audiences. Buut somehow this also interfered with real criticsm – the indy films, the self conscious and revisionist genre films, preempted criticism of themselves and guided their consumption

    the extreme of this is the act of killing where its using all the tricks of genre to stimulate but pretends to be a documentary of some kind

  4. John Steppling says:

    i think there is truth in all that. I mean Ive written much the same critique. But at the same time, when you totalize these critiques this way, there is a sort of blanketing of all narrative, all artwork, that ends up a reflexive judgement. All that is true about the 80s, and its true today, as I said above in the posting, with third world indi films that ape the voice of the first world. And reduce the narrative to the concerns imposed on them by the dominant culture. And then employ these sentimental styles knowing future funding depends on this. This happens on a class level domestically, in the West. I mean the problem is that film is so dominant, and film is more mediated by capital than any other artform. Ergo, the sort of collaborative nature, that is with capital, ends up subsuming the work. That doesnt mean things dont get made that are not prey to that. Thats the issue. One cant totalize these critiques. Not all things are completely determined by the qualities of its production. I mean that article on class and art which you shared with me……….that was the one problem he had, which was thinking in these ridgid marxist terms. And artists are aware of this….some are aware of this. They have no illusions about the mediation. And this is the dialectic tension that has always gone on, only now far more acutely

    . Art criticism is awful today. its horrid. I can barely think of anyone writing good criticsm anymore and part of it is, of course, the state of art. But individual expression still works to supercede these problems. In the matter of McCarthy, its not a matter of craft. Thats the problem, the exact problem AGAIN. Its not about that. And when you cant hear the difference, then one starts to worry, and increasingly nobody can hear the difference. I fear soon, that with so few at work against these forces of homogenization, and with the co-opting of language, the colonizing of image, that pretty much we are left with what Baudrillard imagined. And that to me is very depressing. But if i didnt know there WAS a difference, i wouldnt bother to write. Cynicism is defeat. The left has tended toward a self defensive cynicism about culture in general. You either get the mechanical marxist critique or you get the china mieville embrace of childrens art, and irony, and an embrace of genre for its own sake. Its fandom again. And in the end, the way out of this is neither of those approaches.

  5. John Steppling says:

    and when i say its not about craft……..i mean form has its own deeper meaning. The Road was not good, so put that aside. But Blood Meridian for example…….or the book No Country for Old men…….the form was interrogating the craft in a sense. And this was largely what Adorno saw in beckett, and really what he saw in Kafka too. Now mccarthy is not kafka……but he is qualitatively above the New Yorker fiction or stuff from MFA programs. There are only a handful of writers, fiction writers, I can think of today who i bother to read. James Kelman is another. But this is always very difficult to talk about. Its a talk that is about poetics, and about form, and its increasingly difficult to find the vocabulary for these discussions.

  6. Molly Klein says:

    i think though there is a reason McCarthy is an Oprah bookclub favourite

    But anyway another thing i wanted to say, non sequitur now, is isn’t it fascinatiing how whiteness is being restored and rehabilitated at once in these sood genetics tests and at the same time in sentertainin simulations of torture – whiteness, race, appears as what distinguishes Act of Killing from Zero Dark Thirty or 24. The division itself is reinorced – whiteness as concrete – and the way it arranges everything in these value and truth schemes. While through its orientalism as you describe Act of Killing supports Zero Dark Thrity, enforces the perception of the “oriental’ substance that is contended with, and provides the white imperial torture with its ever present foil and nemesis, whom it is never as bad as or whose nature is the evil it displaces from itself and thus expells even as it ‘confesses’ (yes llook we’ve become as bad as the Evil Savages! but yet it remains “their’ (our) essence and nature to be evil and for “us”{them our oveerlords] it is only the circumstances, the perversion of our (their) nature]

  7. john steppling says:

    Even a blind squirrel gathers some nuts (Oprah).

    Yes….but this is something Ive noticed over the last, say, four years. Maybe five. Recent. That whiteness is being reintroduced as a redeemed category in a sense. I wrote one of these posts about Thatcher conflating race and culture back when multiculturalism hit. And that was maybe the actual start. But just recently this sort of idea of whiteness…..almost as white culture…..has returned. Its never race, its white ideology. That there is some essence du whiteness we can participate in. So yes, this is part of why my instinct from the start with act of killing was suspicion. I thought, wait….this film is manufacturing a false oppositional essence, The Asian …. but the fact its so bizarre, and so exaggerated and all this bollywood weirdness…..that this is what is presented for voyeuristic pleasure., its titillation. So right, the white western torturer and killer is presented as part of science, of progress, of rational calculation. This runs alongside the ever constant presentation of vigilantism. You do what you have to do. Tough decisions. ITs a tough world out there. Sissies dont survive. And the more couch bound, the more nerdy and non-adult the white male becomes, or feels, the more this identity is embraced. This is where the discussion intersects with liberal violence. With emotionless kill lists, with NDAA, with NSA surveillance. Its calculus. The comix seem to feed this, too.Its weird…super heroes are sort of the ‘other’ actually. They are aided by rational white science, and tough masculinity. They are both the other, and a means to get rid of the ‘other’. But in some part of this drama, this theatre of essences, the super hero is like a god, but the god of technology somehow. Im rambling and this is confused…..but I feel as if there is something really insidious about Marvell and DC comix these days…..their evolution.

  8. Molly Klein says:

    I don;t think of these marxist terms as “rigid’ but rather as valid and concrete. But in a sense i think we start too talk past eachother when we discuss the aspect of this product that is not determined.

    What do you think of Julian Stallabrass? do you read his stuff? I haven’t…I don’t loathe and despise Nicholas Bourriaud as much as so many hipster lefties do. But yeah art criticism is wretched, But art historians are still producing some interesting things,

  9. john steppling says:

    I like margaret iverson, who is a historian more than critic. Stallabras is ok, actually. He wrote

    and this is a useful discussion. Bourriard i find irritating. Relational aeshtetics or whatever it is. He seems just sort of superficial, finally, and a bit new age’y. But there are historians writing great stuff. FIne arts has for twenty some years been more mediated by collectors than ever, by gallaries like Saatchi, et al. Then at the same time, there are at least a dozen really great artists, and a number of terrific photograhers…….just this issue, Brian Ulrich’s collection of photos of deserted malls is amazingly good. And Gueorgui Pinkhassov is great, and Hiroshi Sugimoto. Alec Soth and a few others. And in painting I continue to find new people…. kuribayashi takashi is fascinating. Ingmar Alge, luc Tuymans. I mean there is great work out there. Trevor Paglen for example. But then you have this jeff koons world…tracey emin…..and it’s clearly intentional in a way. And I suppose that is what Stallabras is talking about. But Iverson, whose book Beyond Pleasure, is really good on analysing Rachel Whiteread, and the like. But others, James Turrell, are more difficult to talk about I think. Or Herzel. Or gottfreid Helnwein, who i love. Who I really think is perhaps a sort of major artist. But I know , or I can understand the resistance in a way to this stuff. I really do. The entire notion of museums of contemporary art is problematic now. I happen to like going to see rembrandt at The Louvre, but I understand an encroaching sort of neutralization of this experience by the Spectacle.

  10. traxus4420 says:

    hey all. i’m glad you picked out Act of Killing an example – i think that film and its reception serve as a really fascinating case study for how this revalorization of whiteness happens in such an easily disavowable way – the whole film structured around extracting a ‘confession’ that’s really just an affective image – the sight of anwar dry heaving at a scene of his crimes. that’s supposed to be a moment where a ‘real’ pokes through the hallucinatory amoral fantasy the filmmakers turn indonesia into. it’s like the other side of images of suffering children, both performed for the white gaze. the whole thing made me ill, which i’m sure was ‘the point.’ the screening i saw came with a preface by oppenheimer explaining how hilarious indonesian audiences thought the movie was (a defense against critics) and instructing us to stick around until after the movie for a chance to ‘get involved.’ the screeners didn’t bother including that bit, which i thought was so fitting. i have no idea what ‘getting involved’ would mean in this context, but of course the implied white audience will need to feel self-important about their enjoyment of this spectacle, even/especially if the feeling is contentless.

  11. john steppling says:
  12. yeah that’s a great article – i just taught it to a bunch of aspiring NGO and state department employees.

    of course as you know from facebook i hated the counselor — not to rehash but just as a data point, i went in with an open mind, and i saw what you liked about it, the high-minded revision of genre the screenplay was aiming at, but only as what the film was ‘trying’ to do, not what it actually achieved. i found the “big issue” conversations boring not just because they were boringly shot, staged, and acted, but because the content itself was trite (and rabidly misogynistic). i’d also dispute the claim that the film is about “how” – with the action off screen it’s basically all reactions, failed struggles to comprehend a logic and set of motivations that aren’t narrated or discussed in any detail but very clearly imaged (by scott) 100% in racist & misogynist cliches. all whiteness in that film meant was innocence of true evil & the illusion of mastery. where were the ruthless whites? weren’t they all hapless dupes? the worst offense was the lazy reference to the juarez femicides and the ni una mas movement to signify the nihilism of the darker countries and give michael fassbender a Serious Issue to cry in front of as he achieved Awareness through suffering.

  13. i almost feel like mccarthy wrote this screenplay as an attempted rebuttal to bolaño in 2666

  14. john steppling says:

    well, firstly, Id say all the whites were ruthless. The Counselor in particular, though not very good at it, he is still good enough to have made a nice living off the clients he barely defends. I think this is the problem with claiming racism here. WHERE? What cliches? Jesus, see, this is where I despair because I think this is akin to attacking russell brand’s appearance as sexist. The whiteness in the film……….all the white characters were exploitive. All of them. Not a single white character was not venal and greedy and indifferent to suffering and cynical. But your cynicism is certainly predictable on the left. The reference to juarez murders didnt seem lazy to me. I think one cant just claim oh its lazy because it fits the popular left stance on these things. Id also like to know the misogyny in this. I suppose cameron diaz might be so accused, that role. But that raises another question, and one I find Im really really really really fatigued by………this sort of critique that looks to find the injury to purity. The entire script…put scott aside for a moment if possible….is a beautiful haunting sort of mysterious allegory………..and this is what becomes just parochial, the motivations werent clear…….is this high school drama class? With respect man, that sort of analysis is what Ive fought against for fifty years now. Are the motivations narrated in Pinter? In Beckett>? I mean are they really narrated in Shakespeare for that matter? Hamlets motivations are what? Vladimir and estrogan? Max and Lenny? The film is indeed about how, but its just not explained. So conditioned are audiences to a certain kind of expository dialogue, and this is exactly what constitutes the ‘real’ as I imagine it….that they simply say these sorts of things. I remember your comment on facebook. “NO dramatic tension”. What does that mean? What in the world does that mean? What passes for dramatic tension is my exactly definition of bad writing. Now…….i dont want to have to go the mat defending a ridley scott film. The performances are bad and thats at least 70% of the problem. But when you say, oh the ni una mas movement is meant to signify the nihilism of the darker countries. .,.,… thats simply your invention. I dont know in what world such an interpretation makes sense. How? Is Ni Una Mas nihilistic>? Is it portrayed as such? Or is it because there is a white character finding he wasnt able to manipulate a drug trade he didnt understand who wanders through the scene…. I mean honestly, you cant be this casual tossing about these claims. Now…fassbender is an actor I really hate, I have to say. And yes, he is the central character. Bardem is the second central figure I guess. Diaz third. Sort of. But if we have to have a set of principles that are ticked off a list, then this is no longer aesthetic analysis. Its a leftist indoor sport. But I think there begins to be a problem here…..are all films partly set in mexico, but made and written by whites, problematic? Are they? Because Ive written a play set in mexico, with mostly white characters. At a fraudulent cancer clinic. I suspect I should be accused of racism by these definitions. Its really problematic for me for it elides the more important discussion of whats actually going on in the text. Its this eliding of a certain step. Molly and I fight about it all the time. its just all too easy to read things according to a set agenda. I mean honestly, there is nothing remotely racist in this film. Sexist…..its open to discussion. I didnt respond that way, but then masculinist narrative now is going to be lumped in with that critique, deserving or not. But………im not sure, and this is my problem, how to tweeze out McCarthy from Scott. And i did say, and its true, that in the end the film is a failure. But to me, a very worth seeing failure.

  15. john steppling says:

    let me add. One of the characteristics of Studio film, increasingly, and of TV , is the creation of endless false suspense. There are always ‘clock’ on it, as they used to say at story meetings. Put a clock on it. And alongside this is the linking of backstory to motivation. This is the hallmark of hollywood film. A simple childhood event, or experience, justifies and explains what someone is currently doing. The audience is provided with a clear justification for the character’s action. You also see the way complexity, especially in prestige product, is signified by those “pauses” in the narrative….down by the river, night, two characters explain their motivation. Or, if a character is doing a bad thing….he has that scene that explains he is a self made man, and had to struggle as a youth. Or she had a tough childhood and it made her ‘tough’/ etc. I mean I could list about twenty five of these plot mechanisms. They are standard. Its the McKee or syd field system, or these days, Blake Snyder. This is the formula. Its embroidered upon, and its made ‘fresh’ but turnarounds occuring earlier or later….but the formula remains steadfast. And this produces the sentimental effect usually, because reduced worlds allow for manipulation. The McCarthy script never provides false tension. It digresses. Its all a digression in fact. The audience is forced to examine the unmotivated, and this is mimesis in a sense…….we recognize somewhere along the way, through chance almost, this deal is fucked. It fucks everyone. And nobody quite knows why. The John Leguizamo scene. Thats not cynical….its the truth of not being able to know. There is only the repetitons of this ritual. Extracting profit. The circulating of money.

  16. i guess i was looking for dramatic tension because i found its higher aesthetic aspirations so dull. or at least so dully realized. perhaps this marks me as a philistine to you but i preferred oliver stone’s savages, which does similar things thematically, is just as silly and exploitative, but has the decency to be entertaining and witty.

    yes the white characters were exploiters (as is almost everyone in the film), but the protagonist’s whole narrative arc is based on his bumbling foolishness – his white ‘mentor,’ brad pitt, appears savvier at first but also is shown not to understand the depth of the evil he’s facing. mexican cartels are repeatedly described as the most depraved people in the world, second only to women, and while sure, character dialogue doesn’t equal authorial opinion, the fact that the plot played out exactly as foretold by the various monologues (inhumanly cruel mexican cartels who hate white people more than anything, amoral master manipulator cameron diaz as the campiest female villain this side of cruella deville, etc.) it’s hard to locate the critical distance.

    i call the inclusion of ni una mas exploitative because it’s just an image, a backdrop for fassbender’s suffering. it’s not discussed, it plays no role in the narrative, it just appears and disappears, and it’s shown to be futile — the protest happens under the aim of a machine gun that could fire at any time if the gunners were less disinterested, and anyway the deaths of these women is inevitable (a point driven home by penelope cruz’s headless corpse in a pile of trash). it is plainly for the same white gaze as act of killing is — totally decontextualized, outrageous violence shown as endemic to the culture of the Other. that is what it’s informing you of, that’s what it’s trying to teach you.

    there’s no analysis, implicit or explicit, of how drug cartels work, the links between the ‘white’ world (london) and the ‘brown’ world (mexico) are shown through the borderlessness of the spectacular violence but you can’t really say it’s about the mechanics – like the characters we never know why anything is happening, we just know that it will happen. pitt’s death scene doesn’t go any further than implying white ‘complicity,’ which is meaningless without a context. savages, while less didactic aesthetically, ‘exposes’ (or at least represents — and i’d say it’s just as allegorical, just less heavy-handed) more of what you want this movie to. i think you are reading these images in terms of your knowledge and political framework and inserting content where none is given.

    blood meridian i remember is also about violence and evil in a metaphysical, mythic, masculine sense, also with zero interest in ‘sociological’ matters, but there the hallucinatory, incantatory effect of mccarthy’s writing has a chance to take hold, whereas here via scott’s hackery, what seems profound in mccarthy’s better novels becomes adolescent, what is challenging & mysterious becomes transparently cranky and hateful. and in a way, that’s instructive.

  17. that is, act of killing and the counselor are both trying to ‘teach’ a white audience about its ‘complicity’ with the Other’s violence, but they are both de facto in this weird cynical grey zone between moralistic and nihilistic because they’re both contentless, alienated from any rational or narrative means that might exist to understand them. it all happens through images that marshall all these other hollywood movie cliches, with the high art pretense that it’s ‘about’ those cliches.

  18. john steppling says:

    The debate is really about, from your point of view, this idea of “content”. The message is unclear. The moral is unclear, or nonexistant. The plot…..if there is a plot per se, unfolds fatalistically. The inevitable cartel violence ………well, seems to me thats pretty much as it happens. I mean the cartels own the country now. I remember a friend of mine whose father worked in the mexican govt…this is already almost ten years ago……saying at the time, a cartel leader offered to pay of the mexican debt, if the police would cooperate more.. and deliver a few other favors. The point being this is the level of money they have.So,. I mean this isnt a fantasy. But I feel much of the left demands moral instruction. The violence of the cartels is not fantasy. So, again, Im not defending ridley scott. I am however recognizing the script as something, in its way, rather remarkable. Now, comparing it to Savages….and I sort of like Don Winslow actually……..is interesting, because thats a formula movie. But its entertaining for you. This isnt. Because its not formula. So because it fails to adhere to these structural expectations, fails to provide the comfort of dramatic tension, the film disengages you as an audience. I fail to see where this film is teaching the audience complicity. But we return, as I look over these remarks, to this idea of content. What constitutes content? You ask for rational narrative. That seems to mean formula, a plot with dramatic tension and a moral lesson. If the film withholds these lessons, its deemed nihilistic. You cant ad hominum say oh, its hollywood cliches. It cant be both non rational and anti formulaic, and also a cliche. Its gets very confused when these terms are employed sort of haphazardly. Act of Killing is in theory not a fiction. So, there are a different set of talking points….but I addressed that in the post. But I find the idea of context here confusing. What you describe is not the film I saw. Context? I think this is being confused with structure that is reassuring. The training is in a culture that responds to narrative unfamiliarity with hostility. Its interesting that so far as I can tell, this film didnt get a single good review. Not one. But how does one narrate a story about drug deals, about white funding of the narcotics trade, and not somehow include violence? And again, I fail to understand what is racist here. What is cynical is not listening, in my humble opinion. And its an essay, there isnt that sort of “analysis”. This is the sort of argument Ive heard for so long, and its so depressing. On one level the film is rather nihilistic….maybe (and Im talking the script here)…but only in the sense a lot of great writing would be called nihilistic. its a very sort of puritanitcal demand that a lot of leftist criticism expresses. There is no resolution, no structural completion in the way “story” is often consumed. And its highly unnatural in terms of language. Its a strange unrealistic dialogue. This is always going to be ridiculed…..but mainstream critics, too. Your critique sounds exactly like Variety, with a leftist vocabulary. its the same review I read twenty times when i looked at the reviews. Oh, its incoherent, we dont know whats going on, its a cliche, etc.

    There is no place in this film that I can find where the audience is meant to be taught complicity……..I dont even know what that means here. Other than one could probably say that about almost any story or film if you wanted. You are certainly entitled to think its bad writing. But to extrapolate that to mean this is racist seems curious to me.. I mean i sort of dont even know how to address that here. But…….again, content. This is a very orthadox perspective, and the default setting for discussions of content is the real cliche.

    And the cartels are rather depraved, actually. We know the long historical picture of this, but in a sense, that picture, the dynamics of that history is exactly what this script, though probably in the end not the film, is addressing. Its like, Kafka has no content either I guess. No rational plot. No resolution. And to say, snidely, that it has ‘high art’ pretense is the voice of liberal left snark. Oh i like Savages better. I dont mean to be insulting, but thats exactly the tone, the endless suffocating tone of almost all tookool4skool liberal hipster irony. This inability to submit to narratives that are elliptical or not conforming somehow to at least some formula structure. I mean yes, this is ridley scott, but if you compare this script to what the Coen brothers scripted for No Country for Old Men, there is a rather a profound difference. Both are in the end bad films, or failed in the case of The Counselor, but one is just ironic and erases all that is unique in McCarthy. And erases any social historical dimension. The other is a director of studio junk (scott) who is however working with an entirely different sort of material. The Counselor does have a context in that sense, in the sense I mean. It is just not the usual didactic lesson the left loves….john sayles for example. All the left loves this hack. I dont hate him, but he;s a shit writer. But this script, this elevated biblical sort of artifical language is quite beautiful, and its also an engagement with, yes, some mythic grasp of the destruction of the south by the north. Im amazed that isnt obvious. In that sense, its to a degre director proof. But there lurks in all this the same general cynical distrust of artistic ambition that I find throughout this culture.

  19. john steppling says:

    now again, yes, as I said in the post, Scott is a hack. And there is a discussion to be had about how this impacts the final quality of the film, how we evaluate it, finally, as an artwork. But the script………the script……..the script is not a cliche. But it appears the same left boilerplate is going to be hauled out to discount it………..there is a word in polish for pretentious……..pretensjonalni….though Im probably spelling it wrong………that i used to hear for half a decade or more EVERY DAY at the film school, Sentimental “high art” was ok….Wajda was ok……..but anything too unpleasant was not….was “pretentious”. such was the hostility to art. That hostility ends up accepting entertainment far more easily. And that is because one can say, oh,, its junk, but its amusing. Im allowed to enjoy it, but I know its not to be taken seriously. Because serious is not to be avoided. As soon as something is not amusing and entertaining, its racist and misogynistic and a high art cliche.

  20. john steppling says:

    final thought……..for now anyway. The police are conspicuously absent in the Counselor. In almost all films about drug wars and crime (including Savages) the baseline is police….the police are there as the final bastion of civilization. Not in The Counselor. Another bit of disunifying by McCarthy.

  21. Traxus, you’re interpretation of The Counsellor is all too common, and, unfortunately, completely blind and misguided. Everything is connected in the film, from diamonds to demonstrations, you just don’t see it. McCarthy’s script leaves out the scenes that would explain it to you. It is an inside out Hollywood film, and you’re grasping at things are there, just not immediately evident. The fact that you’re comparing this film to the idiotic and ultimately white supremacist Savages is revealing that you’ve drunk the Hollywood Kool-Aid (and yes, that does mark you as a philistine). I don’t blame you, it’s hard not to, especially when at the end of Savages everything turns out okay for the beautiful, young, sexually free white people, while the brown characters, cartoons within their own right, end up in jail or dead, because white people grow better weed then brown people, but drugs are bad and justice needs to be served. But please, don’t dismiss The Counsellor because it’s a film you don’t understand. (And I assure you, you don’t understand it.)

    I’m not going to play the “I’m Mexican” card here, but really, are you familiar with the Mexican femicides? And I hope you’re not counting reading 2666 (albeit, a brilliant novel) or watching The Bridge as being familiar with the murders in Mexico. The Ni Una Mas scene you find “exploitative” is real, and guess what, demonstrations like that really do appear and disappear daily, and usually under gunfire – I’m sorry if you find that “exploitative.” You might take issue with it because you’re seeing through the lens of whiteness and therefore you might not understand the value of the grief and fear and anxiety experienced by Mexican citizens and the rebellion and solidarity that is arising within its citizens. That scene is an indictment on the otherizing by El Norte, and that Fassbender appears in the scene to witness it, while he’s in tears about losing his fiancee (the milquetoast Penelope) reflects exactly what McCarthy is saying about the cultural solipsism of the American white male, and coincidentally, you’ve just proven that point too.

    Speaking of coincidences, you can say that the film is an analysis in how narrative is shaped. “They know what they are, they just don’t believe in them.” That’s the missive Pitt’s character gives the counsellor regarding the cartels and coincidences. For every action, there’s a reaction, a ripple that traverses characters and scenes and digresses into tangents until it appears as a coincidence. You don’t see the “dramatic tension” because it has escalated, like tiny snowballs, into actions that occur off-stage. McCarthy, and to a point Scott, has cut the excess fat from the scene to get at the core. And it doesn’t go down easy.

    McCarthy has provided a space/texture for his dialogue to exist. To go into any film and expect realism is absurd. I hate it when critics or viewers say “That’s not how people really talk. I don’t believe it.” Do you look at a Picasso and say “That’s not really how people look” or do you listen to Mahler’s 6th Symphony and say “That’s not really how grief sounds”? Okay, so you found it dull. I found it completely original. Finally, a script that has a fucking point of view. I’ve never heard these words as dialogue in an American film, and it immediately forced me to realign my perceptions of what kind of film I was watching.

    And I really don’t know what cliches you’re referring to. You see misogyny, I see a force of nature in a woman being in total control of herself. And it was Diaz’s best role. You know what misogyny is? Putting cum in your hair (There’s Something About Mary). You see depraved Mexican cartels, I see characters depicted like capricious demigods deciding the fate of man on Mount Olympus. Compare Ruben Blades’s character to Demian Bichir’s Alex or to his drug lord character on Weeds.

    Anyway, I don’t really mean to get at you personally, it’s just that this film has much greater value that you’re giving it and it frustrates me that critics aren’t recognizing it. It’s a film (script) that demands you to pay attention and that refuses to point out the obvious. And it’s one of the few scripts that really demystifies typical Hollywood representations of the American-Mexican drug relations so much that people just can’t handle it.

  22. Molly, I think it’s unfair to attempt to discredit McCarthy somehow by bringing up Oprah and her book club. And perhaps it’s only semantics, but I don’t see McCarthy as a master of craft. Stephen King uses craft. Michael Crichton uses craft. I think a writer like McCarthy goes into complex areas of form, as John says, where form interrogates craft. And that interrogation is a way to guard against certain paternal point of views. Stephen King tells us. McCarthy compels us to ask.

  23. John, you’re absolutely right about the police being absent in the film. I didn’t really notice at first, but I knew that the representation felt askew in relation to other Hollywood drug films. Anyway, I wanted to address how Scott impacts the script. As I mentioned it earlier, I believe he actually got out of the way of the script – meaning that very few times did he impose himself onto the direction. I shudder to think what this film would be under the direction of Scorsese or Fincher. Sure, the film is glossy, with a high budget, and it reeks of its stars, but a less experienced director might have tried to emulate the Coen brothers or, worse, the soppy John Hillcoat. It’s worth noting that this is an entirely original script written on spec.

  24. john steppling says:

    a couple of thoughts. The absent police is very significant. For Savages (and virtually all other studio films and TV) the police serve as the final valorizing of white power, and of the status quo. In The Counselor, that beautiful tragic speech of ruben Blades at the end, where he quotes Machado, serves as a sort of epitaph on the white north. For the idea that ‘anything can be done’. I feel sad for when I wrote my critique on Breaking Bad, I felt the white supremacism was so obvious, that it barely needed explaining. In Weeds, Molly and I discussed in some detail the way that pov snuck up on what at first glance appeared a sort of hip counter culture-y liberal show. But such is the hostility to deeper layers in writing, perhaps the inability to even hear or renarrate them anymore, that the Counselor was brutally attacked by critics. Now one of the things that disturbed me about so many on the left regards culture, is the deep focused engagement with art is not there. In this sense, it is the same as the right. There are only these stances, these postures, that are used in these sloppy ways, and thereby trivialize the analysis of the stuff that IS reactionary, that really IS racist.

    What molly said above about a shift in the 80s is, I think, true. But there is another topic lurking in all this. And that is masculinity. There is nothing wrong with masculinity. Can be clear about this. When it is used in a laundry list of prejoritives I am troubled. Three novelists usually called “masculine”.,…jim harriosn, Richard Ford, and McCarthy (to a lesser degree robert stone). Ford had one script…he adapted his Rock Springs story and my good friend michael Fields directed it (Bright Angel was the final title). Its one of the absolutely most neglected films of the last thirty years. But Ford is accused of being masculine. Harrison is all the time, and they destroyed his novella Legends of the Fall, and then McCarthy. The problem isnt masculinity, its the hierarchical system of patriarchy and the oppression of women. Masculinity is fine. Im masculine. The point is that McCarthy has suffered too much popularity and it makes people suspicious. I understand that. But jesus christ, line by line he is so masterful and so infintely superior in all ways that can be described, that its just frustrating when I expect attacks and then they arrive, on schedule. You know Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory is the best book, perhaps ever, on art. On aesthetics. And the driving belief behind his thought was that the experience of the artwork was being forgotten. The modern society of untruth had discouraged sincere and deep and attentive reading of artworks. And its true. On the right, a faux populism that embraces Speilberg. On the left, the same mechanism for a Sayles, as an example. If all you get out of a narrative work is the liberalish *message* then you are getting very little. The left loves anything with the correct and OBVIOUS political message. And the mainstream left over decades has attacked art as bourgeois …. and often sound like the Nazi’s condemning decadence. When i hear mythic used as a perjoritive, like masculine and i hear there are no sociological issues (thank fucking christ by the way) I wonder if there is any hope. The Counselor is, if anything, anti imperialist if we wanted to stretch it a bit. White people are seen as exploiters, indifferent to poverty, and expecting things to work for them because of their white privilege and because things always work for the U.S. The south is seen as realist, and unsentimental, and resilient. The cartels as viscious and brutal….and self annihilating in a sense. For only a lacerating self loathing can sustain such barbarity. That McCarthy has an odd, not sympathy, but understanding of their suffering, too, is what makes him a deeper writer than the usual hacks.

    Im on the fence about Ridley Scott in this film. Scott has never made very deep films. And he approached this without the intellectual depth to really deal with it….sort of like John Huston when he did Wise Blood. But I suspect Im too hard on him. He needed movie stars to get it made and he got stuck with them. But he is a professional, the film is clean, and yes, slick…too slick probably, but thats Scott. But i agree its better scott than the dreadful Coen brothers, or god forbid scorsese or Aronovsky or the like.

  25. i am seeing a lot of shifting goal posts here. on the one hand you want to argue that the counselor, or at least the screenplay, is a kind of critical allegory “about the selfishness of privilege and about the white colonial mythologizing of Mexico as a shadow land of darkness,” and an “examination of the mechanics of a business soaked in cruelty and blood” then when i challenge a claim YOU ostensibly put forward – that it has this political interest – you accuse me of being too leftist and blind to aesthetics…then when i say its aesthetics are bad i’m just ignored (or i guess you were blaming it all on scott until joe changed your mind). i feel like i’m the only one who’s referring to any specific feature of the movie as evidence, but i accept that i can’t continue an argument over what is or is not subtly implied in the film without having it in front of me to do a close reading. i also haven’t read the screenplay by itself, which is maybe a different experience. maybe if i was more imaginative i could have reverse engineered the novella that it probably should have been. all i can say here is that the screenplay isn’t the film, and my defense of savages is not that it’s not trash, but that the political critique you attribute to the counselor fits savages better — better smart use of formula & genre than an inept attempt at an art film. in my opinion.

    to clarify: i wouldn’t say savages is not still to some degree white supremacist, but at least the casting and performances favor the hispanic villains (the cartels represented by charismatic actors instead of a quasi-supernatural absence), the narrative actually shows the mechanics of the drug trade without being didactic, and the fake-out ending is much more clearly critical, rejecting the more conventional romantic tragedy of the novel’s ending, where the white heroes kill themselves for love in a gunfight, in favor of a more realistic comedy where of all the depraved characters only elena gets busted (not true, joe, that all the mexicans die or go jail) and structurally everything keeps going as before. is irony necessarily so terrible?

    in this argument i’m seeing more and more how close the counselor is to act of killing on this question of violence and racism. both are performed for a white gaze and both concentrate on the depravity of a nonwhite Other, one that ‘really happens’ but is presented in a radically decontextualized way, and structured around the aftermath. so both are ‘contemplating’ the violence and are ‘about’ what’s always offscreen. the ‘surreal’ or non-realist aesthetics of both could be said to depend on their exotic, nonwhite settings. and i think you could make practically the same defense, modified for the genre (fiction vs. documentary) of act of killing that you now seem to be making of the counselor, that because it’s ‘about’ a complicated history of violence that it makes minimal concrete reference to, and only then as a platform to discourse in a universalizing way about Evil (which happens to be embodied more purely and unselfconsciously by brown people) and the decadence of the white society ignorant of its Truth, that this makes it art, and so above ordinary kinds of criticism. also because both, if attacked on these grounds, can be defended by filling in the blanks with outside knowledge, over or in place of the metaphysical implications — oppenheimer defends himself by saying that real indonesians who know the history have no problem with the film, and don’t find it racist at all. you accept this defense for the counselor but don’t for act of killing. which i think approaches a real aesthetic problem that i don’t know quite how to pose yet.

  26. “What constitutes content? You ask for rational narrative. That seems to mean formula, a plot with dramatic tension and a moral lesson. If the film withholds these lessons, its deemed nihilistic. You cant ad hominum say oh, its hollywood cliches. It cant be both non rational and anti formulaic, and also a cliche.”

    i’m not asking for a ‘rational narrative’ or a more formulaic film, i’m saying that not having these things doesn’t make a film good or even aesthetically interesting by itself. i’ve tried to point out the cliches in the story (white protag in over his head with evil brown people, cameron diaz as femme fatale on steroids, mexican cartels as a dark force that can’t be escaped or even represented, etc.), but again i guess i can’t really make my case about the visual side without the film in front of me. i would argue that tarantino and lynch (both of whom i like a lot despite their politics — see, not a stalinist) are filmmakers that make films that upset hollywood formula, are full of irrationality, and are knowingly constructed from cliches. but their films aren’t failures (except maybe django).

  27. “to clarify: i wouldn’t say savages is not still to some degree white supremacist, but at least the casting and performances favor the hispanic villains (the cartels represented by charismatic actors instead of a quasi-supernatural absence)”

    Salma Hayek, Benicio Del Toro, Demian Bichir – how is it that this cast “favors” the hispanic (sic) villains? Other than Del Toro, an actor who is unpredictable in a very good way, Hayek and Bichir flatter the audience purely by being Mexican. It’s no coincidence that they’re the latest two Mexican actors to be nominated for Oscars. Ruben Blades, not quite a household name, brings more dignity to the role in one scene than the entire hispanic (sic) cast of Savages combined. I don’t see stereotypes within that role, in fact he plays a biblical role of some wise man or soothsayer, but if you think that he’s a stereotype simply because he’s a non-white character cast in the role of cartel leader, then I think your ideas of stereotypes are a little bit mixed up.

    To be honest, I don’t see your reasoning in comparing The Counsellor to The Act of Killing. You say “both are performed for a white gaze and both concentrate on the depravity of a nonwhite Other.” And I think this is where you get them mixed up. The Act of Killing presents itself as a documentary, it flatters its audience without implication. The Counsellor is allegorical fiction, which leads much closer to the truth than documentary. It incriminates the culprits, on both sides, but in a way that interrogates the audience about all the complexities in between. There is no right and wrong in The Counsellor, and judgement, if ever handed down, comes from fate itself. It disrupts the white gaze – and I think this is why critics hate the film. In The Act of Killing judgement is presented from the white filmmakers for a white audience.

  28. john steppling says:

    oh dear. Ok…Im going to try to go point by point. First off there are no shifting goalposts (sic). Saying aesthetics are bad doesnt make them bad. You simply fail, rather stunningly, to read film very well….just film per se. And actually, Joe didnt change my mind. But I think he softened my dislike of scott slightly. Is that a sign of moral weakness? You do need to read more carefully. But more to the point, Ive repeated over and over and Joe specified as well, a number of very specific screen moments. How can you say that I havent been specific.? Do i need to go back and list them?

    OF course Savages is far more white supremacist. Jesus fucking christ……..its a COP movie, its about WHITE drug dealers and growers who end up happy, or at least spiritually realized, and the cop has solved the problem…the white cop. In fact its very like Breaking Bad. Its a colonial story. White conquest of an industry (and land) left to the natives. White people do everything better, even grow weed. If ever there were sterotypical mexican villains, its that film. Secondly, Counselor is the anti colonial film, and there are no cops. Its everything I said it was. Notwithstanding your irritating tone….and for someone your age (not to be ageist) such ‘tude smacks of defensivness……….but never mind that. Lets stay on the film: you keep claiming cliches………please do point one out? See, the entire absence of cops, of any appearance of a motivation linked to the authority structure, is missing…and that is a not insignificant part of what creates the NOT white gaze (speaking of philosophical cliches). You seem to have a really hard time with things not being clearly presented. And what do you mean by quasi supernatural absence? You mean you dont see the bosses? This is how provincial your aesthetic reading is. But your not alone, trust me. So somehow not depicting Mister Big is a sign of some narrative failure. Because gosh, it would sure be less of a cliche if we saw the boss of the cartel, right? But honestly, Savages…john travolta? Seriously…….and Taylor Kitsch *great name* and Blake Lively……..thats certainly a steller cast. And then a character named El Azul. But no, no cliches in sight. Its a cartoon. And its a cartoon cinematic language….oh, wait, its “ironic”……and yes, ironic comedies about drug violence feel slightly undefendable…..but as I say, you were entertained because nothing was asked of you in terms of following the plot. A film based on a book by Don Winslow…..famed previously for several “surf noir” crime novels. As I say, I enjoy Winslow to a degree. And he’s a sort of homeboy…so I like reading him. But he’s objectively a terrible hack pulp writer. Now its stunning to me that I have to explain this shit to you, but clearly I do.

    Tarentino does not upset Hollywood formula. If he did, in the least, he would not now be a jillionaire. He pretends to upset hollywood formula. He makes mostly incoherent rambling racist misogynist cartoons. Lynch Ive hated for thirty years now. What is troubling here is that many smart people fail to grasp just how awful Lynch is (founder and owner of the largest business schools in europe by the way) and how just cinematically puerile his work is. I remember when blue velvet came out and I thought….fuck, this is sub Jarmusch. But the generation …your generation it seems……..has largely grown up thinking these techniques employed by Lynch ….techniques borrowed from Chiat Day, from Roy Anderrson, are cool. They are empty. There is nothing there. It is the manufacturing of a “weirdness” effect. Nothing more. To try to apologize by saying, oh they are MADE of cliches sort of reminds me of students at the film school answering “No i WANTED it to be boring”. Making films out of cliches only creates a bigger cliche. But more importantly, what it does is neutralize the basic narrative engagement.

    I think traxus, you need to read a lot more modern fiction. Thats my suggestion. This entire question of “mexican cartel that cant be represented” is idiotic. Im sorry. With respect….Im glad your commenting….so forgive my becoming snide……but strangle christ…….I mean, i guess its fascinating because when I teach screenwriting I run into the deeply internalized preachings of Mckee and Snyder far more than I want to admit. And it surfaces at moments when a complaint about absent expository material is voiced., Of course it can be represented…. Mc Carthy chose not to….not to somehow indicate mexican depravity….but because the story is not about the guys who run the cartels…its about the lower level workers…..but like the police, and the DEA, and a host of other things, the narrative landscape is more biblical……elliptical…….uncanny. In the sense Auerbach broke narrative brances into Homeric and Old testement. In the King James nobody ever knows where anything comes from, often not even voices. Suddenly forty days have passed. Suddenly they walk to a mountain. No description, no detailed journey,; while in Homer, the brief is to make clear everything that occurs, that is in front of us.— But we live in a culture where the demand is for linear (Homeric) clearly outlined (in crayon apparently) A to B plots. To denigrate narrative for what is missing is pretty middle brow and then to attribute something supernatural only speaks to a culture too saturated in zombie and sci fi films. its just not a racist film. Repeating over and over this white gaze stuff doesnt make it so. And Act of Killing is emploring its audience (as you said to get involved)……its in bad faith I feel (and i know good and respected friends who really love this film) and it is , like Lynch, engaging in a creating of ‘weirdness” , except that AofK is an orientalized version. Where is the orientalizing in Counselor?

    Counselor is metaphoric, and what you keep demanding as ‘missing’, isnt missing at all. Joe actually explained that perfectly. This is about the lost white lawyer….his sense of superiority, and his downfall. There are maybe five or six minor but significant Mexican characters. All of them important cogs in how the impossibe expections of the lawyer are going to fail him. Nothing supernatural. Just a faceted and beautifully written and economical, actually, script that tracks this failure and in a sense hubris, to the fatalistic ending. One can argue a case against fatalistic narrative. Its too Camus or something, and I can buy that enough to listen. // and. Diaz as the only realist, survives. Blades speech again, is the epitaph. But you cannot invent this idea of raging racism……..because thats not on the screen, and its certainly not in the dialogue. I may be harder on Scott than joe………but I dont sense any egregious distoring of what McCarthy did (and i read the script a while back). Its a small meditation on the failure to read the signs around you. The only realists are diaz and blades and Leguizamo. All are to a degree fatalists, too.

    Also, this attitude about “subtly implied”. Well, perhaps for you. I didnt find it that way. But again, people in general are losing the capacity for mimetic processing. Or simply they are disturbed and made uncomfortable by elliptical storytelling.

  29. john steppling says:

    a few additional thoughts.
    First, I find it tricky, and maybe quite difficult in the end, not to be totalizing when talking about mass culture. Maybe about all culture and art. I mean some things, Homeland for example, are so nakedly fascisitic and so anti Arab (and developed by an Israeli writer and producer) that its easy. Or say, Law & Order….because it is so obviously creating and manufacturing this simplistic police state apologetics and so clearly stigmatizing the criminals and so clearly equating poor and black and brown with crime.

    Its less easy with certain other more complex narratives. This question of who it is made for is problematic in a way. Its made for whoever will buy a ticket. The question is does the pov, does the perspective on display, flatter white power? Does it reinforce a value system of binary right & wrong, does it normalize certain beliefs that are not normal at all? The discussion of violence enters here. But first……..as soon as a police character enters….almost regardless of all else…..good cop bad cop…..doesnt matter……as soon as that character enters the narrative, that narrative is going to be valorizing the police state. Same as the near impossibility of making an anti war film if you film tanks and guns and uniforms etc. The camera carresses. So, there is that. Secondly, I think its just become (and Im guilty of this, too) too easy to call things racist . I think there are qualities of racism, and kinds. And I think in mass culture, in corporate culture, the manipulation of image codes and fashion and etc etc make it very very unclear, often, what is being said. And then there are problems with how narrative finds a way to escape the cliches of a vast colonizied vocabulary. Then the problems of performance. And then the problems of the camera. I mean overwhelmingly the manufacture of a white patriarchal Imperialist authoritarian world view is repeated.

    This is why I think it is so hard to arrive at conclusions about the value of a particular film. But i think fragmenting is going on, visually, while still processing the entire visual practice at work in a film. I think audiences are more and more used to, and able to, fragment their appreciation. If a terrible performance occurs……..this is not unfamiliar. Its just jettisoned with maybe a scene that wasnt liked, etc. And then the question of plot. Funny, Syd Field just died yesterday. But, ok, why does one (or why do “I”) find the ellipitical in McCarthy as part of an artistic writing, of creating a narrative that posits an off stage …and why do I find Lynch just awful, adolescent, and manipulative, finally? The answer is twofold. First, line by line, there is no comparison in just basic writing craft. Second, what Lynch does IS decontextualize……and his cartoon dark skinned weirdos, or his “odd:” behaviors (hopper in blue velvet, everyone in mulholland drive) are not based on anything. They are just invented fantasies. And because of this, they carry no allegorical potential. He stigmatizes difference as well. Respitory weakness is a sign of the criminal. But if we look at Lady from Shanghai….why is the crippled old husband\ his cane tapping on the stairs and corridor….why do I feel that is NOT stigmatizing? Thats not easy to answer, except that that crippled husband is based on a cruelty that is itself part of his feelings of inadequecy…it is a desire to kill that which he cannot really possess, regardless of his wealth. In Lynch, the Hopper character isnt unified, or historically evolved. Why does he do what he does?

    But if you leave out expected scenes in mcCarthy, I see only what I would call similar to what Chinese landscape painters did, or what Pinter did, or what Sarah Kane did, really, too. But there is a context. ANd this raises the issue of the agreed upon “real” i wrote about. Is Counselor depicting this corporate real?? I think not….but this is where fragmenting comes in. Probably there are quite a few places the camera films a visual cliche. This is why Scott is in the end a hack. A good one, but a hack. The camera is too familiar. Though certainly nothing as familiar as 98% of other studio film. Still………..but its mediated by the language of the dialogue. The camera doesnt tell the story (another reason for its unpopularity_) but the text tells the story and thats pretty unusual. There are no visual signifiers for plot. For character, yes, but not for plot. Its partly why Pitt is bad and why Bardem are bad./ They are playing dress up. But again the writing redeems these things….or most of the time at least.

    But back to my main point. I feel as soon as a mexican appears, or a Chinese, or an african or a poor black character……….there is a temptation to see it as racist. And its not a good tendency to do that. Now often, mostly close to always, it IS racist. But not always. Sometimes the narrative is actually criticizing this white identity that gives permission to enter the dark lands, the ghetto, the sinister orient. I guess Im saying, one CAN write without participating in the manufaturing of white privilege. And the same with misogyny. There is a ideological and critical counter revolution going on. Laurie Penny and Zizek. Critics like sadie doyle, et al. Zizek wants to always claim the resistence is the new hegemonic power….there is this subtle or not too subtle conflating of backgroud and foreground, of victim and oppressor. The voice of the victim is not heard if the voice is synthetic. I mean, zero dark thirty was directed by a woman, and sophie coppala makes one demented class antagonistic and misogynist film after another. Or take Top of the Lake…directed by jane campion. I mean its a crime mystery genre piece about the pathologies of patriarchy……anbd its astoundingly good for most of the series’ episodes. But suddenly the genre sort of starts to neutralize the critique. . The rules of genre made the female police officer a symbolic man. So that the back story was abrogated –Campion i suspect felt herself too important to do a crime show and she forgot the structural or plot demands of the genre. My point is, Im not sure campions series didnt contradict its intentions by the end. I am only arguing with myself here, really. I fear making blanket statements of any sort, any of the time. I dont want to end up defending a film I think is flawed. I only think the script is good enough to sort of redeem the project, even with bad movie stars. If Brad Pitt is in something, does it automatically make it about celebrity? Maybe.

    Theory is always going to generalize. And its important to do that. To withhold judgement is only reactionary. But at some point these glosses on culture product start to feel more about the persona of the critic than they do about the material being analysed. Style trumping content in criticism. this is the virus of identity addiction. It is a secondary manufacturing process of ‘irony’ as well.

    Im not sure how Oliver Stone, who goes out and makes an amazing history series…….just amazingly good…..can then in his own world , his self expression,. continuely come up so contradictory./ But sometimes a dildo is just a dildo. And its never just that simple. Nothing is ever simple. I think I hate the reductive more than any single thing.

    So, I worry that if snark eclipses critical thinking, what is left? For snark is about subject position, not about reality.
    “We are more closely bound to the invisible than the visible”..Novalis.

  30. Molly Klein says:

    I think anytime one shows how the vision of reality presented is ideological people who enjpy the film for whatever reason claim it was imposed on the filmmaker by reality itself no matter how absurd. As if one must make a feature film depicting reality – but giant apes reakly do llike th climb on the Empire State Building, Here hJohn you say ;but cartels really are this evil’ , they really do leave headless movie starls i n the trash for millions of paying punters to gaze at…it’s not only uuntrue it’s beside the point. A film isn’t less racist because this or that picture or plot element contains something somewhat resembling reality just as it’s not less racist for being fantastical. But this is always the response — this racist portrayal is realistic because racism is truthful — this is always the excuse even when you have already dismissed this replication of reality as the heart of aesthtic crappiness.

    Ihavern’t seen the film of course. this kind of stuff is not for me, but if there is penelope cruz headless in the trash and those responsible are not the white suprelacist empiire thats also selling it to you for your enjoyment and enriching themselves by it…well that’s obviously what it is. Not much more to say plainly.

  31. Molly Klein says:

    “Molly, I think it’s unfair to attempt to discredit McCarthy somehow by bringing up Oprah and her book club.”

    yes it is very unfair this was a jest teasing John whom I objected to bringin Oprah ip against Morrison a writer very important to me

    I should have smileyed

  32. Molly Klein says:

    “its about WHITE drug dealers and growers who end up happy, or at least spiritually realized, and the cop has solved the problem…”

    But don’t white drug dealers end up happy and spiritually realized because the cops solve their problems? Isn’t that realistic?
    isn’t oliver north happy?

    see how this kind of defense works? when you refuse to acknowledge the third dimension and just analyse the film’s flat surface for hidden messages – when you refuse to examine or acknowledge how the film manipulates audience to position selves toward and feel about what it depicts – you can excuse anything. The didacticism of film doesn’t work like a scripture with a hidden message from God because nobody believes films were made by god. If the film =say= cops always solve problems , so what? you don’t believe the flmmakers are omniscient. How would they know what cops do and why should you believe them? It is how the film manipulates you into experiences of what it displays that operates its ideology.Ot is the disgust and fear it evokes with a headless body, and the desire it incites with despictrions of luxe life (regardless of where the narrative takees its little lesson.)

    McCarthy obviously has a whiteness besieged obsession — i this same imagery of the desperate whites surrounded and threatened and pursued by unimaginably inhumanly ruthless relentless shadowy nonwhite evil. Is there a diifference between the mexcan cartels here and the wandering brutes the white civilized kid and his dad are tryin to acoid after the apocalypse? Who will use them like animals, mutilate and eat them? This motif seems to be his shtick. Of course its ‘trye’ for pepple who believe this is true. Lots of white people suffer this raced misanthropy and mean world syndrome. And yes there is a lot of violence in the world,

    But every movie that shows yoou gthis kind of violence and leaves outwhite supremacist Empire as the root and causem and shifts instead to saqtan or evil human nature the depravity our species or some bogus psychology of our vicious amooral idis doing its ideological work. Of couse because thiese are messages and operations on you by that very empire whose evils are being displaced onto you. You are convinced to accept the blame for what this evil empire does. And it seems even obvious and natural to you to believe human beings are just vile and disgusting and scary and the darker they are the scarier and less compassionate and more violent and sadistic and amoral.

    and again and again audiences leave all this shit saying ‘yeah that’s true.’

  33. Molly Klein says:

    “its about WHITE drug dealers and growers who end up happy, or at least spiritually realized, and the cop has solved the problem…”

    But don’t white drug dealers end up happy and spiritually realized because the cops solve their problems? Isn’t that realistic?
    isn’t oliver north happy?

    see how this kind of defense works? when you refuse to acknowledge the third dimension and just analyse the film’s flat surface for hidden messages – when you refuse to examine or acknowledge how the film manipulates audience to position selves toward and feel about what it depicts – you can excuse anything. The didacticism of film doesn’t work like a scripture with a hidden message from God because nobody believes films were made by god. If the film =say= cops always solve problems , so what? you don’t believe the flmmakers are omniscient. How would they know what cops do and why should you believe them? It is how the film manipulates you into experiences of what it displays that operates its ideology.Ot is the disgust and fear it evokes with a headless body, and the desire it incites with despictrions of luxe life (regardless of where the narrative takees its little lesson.)

    McCarthy obviously has a whiteness besieged obsession — i this same imagery of the desperate whites surrounded and threatened and pursued by unimaginably inhumanly ruthless relentless shadowy nonwhite evil. Is there a diifference between the mexcan cartels here and the wandering brutes the white civilized kid and his dad are tryin to acoid after the apocalypse? Who will use them like animals, mutilate and eat them? This motif seems to be his shtick. Of course its ‘trye’ for pepple who believe this is true. Lots of white people suffer this raced misanthropy and mean world syndrome. And yes there is a lot of violence in the world,

    But every movie that shows yoou gthis kind of violence and leaves outwhite supremacist Empire as the root and causem and shifts instead to saqtan or evil human nature the depravity our species or some bogus psychology of our vicious amooral idis doing its ideological work. Of couse because thiese are messages and operations on you by that very empire whose evils are being displaced onto you. You are convinced to accept the blame for what this evil empire does. And it seems even obvious and natural to you to believe human beings are just vile and disgusting and scary and the darker they are the scarier and less compassionate and more violent and sadistic and amoral.

    and again and again audiences leave all this shit saying ‘yeah that’s true.’

  34. Molly Klein says:

    “This entire question of “mexican cartel that cant be represented” is idiotic. Im sorry.>>”

    of course this is a cliche
    the evil ciminal institution that cannot be represented is a very common trope in crime fiction
    its ancient
    it was alreayd a topos to be parodied a hundred years ago by Kafka
    it really takes form as freemasons or illunimati on fictiions but its earlier in fables
    oriental conspiracies
    oriental plots
    te oldest story in the world
    they story that inspired pogroms
    they are retelling this story to inspire new pogroms (these movies and the pogroms and raids on immigrants in US go together like these stories about the turkish jewish conspiracies and the pogroms of te middle ages in europe)
    this shadowy evil organization s already a full blown commonplace to be sent up in Dumas a hundred and ffifty years ago

  35. Molly Klein says:

    These movies and shows about mexican evils…weeds, breaking bad, also along with these movies that other and demonize and poduce a figure heaped with fears and disgust
    go alongside and bolster the ostentibly non fictional discourse


    of these evils infiltrating the wholesome homeland that associates Mexicans with ‘illegality’ and lawlessness in many ways,
    there is a metaphysical sort of illegality and lawlessness of Mexicans and central and sourth americans being elaborated in US discourses in many registers and genres
    and they are the accompaniment of actual state violence against the targeted demonized populations


  36. Molly Klein says:

    I mean jeez John, the shadowy evil outlandish dark conspiracy which cannot be brought into the light is not a cliche? come on
    al qeada???
    its the oldest cliche and the most reactionary
    a kind of half expropriation was accomplished by liberal products in cinema and film that tended to reveal it to be US government or corporation…
    manchurian candidate becomes three days of condor sort of thing
    for a time tat was the cliche – the evil others shadowy network turned out too be “us” and there was a Oedipus revelation
    countless novels, many movies
    but now with these films discussed here, it seems there is no change in the trends to be returning to the standard Othering
    the unimaginably ruthless cunning mysterious outlaw brotherhood/network/ cscarcely human

  37. Molly Klein says:

    I think its just become (and Im guilty of this, too) too easy to call things racist

    that’s rdiculous. our world is raced. there is no industry more racist than mainstream media. Of course eveything is racist.. What critics have only to do is to show precisely how the racism is worked in each product. But ALL entertainment commodities are racist with negligible exceptions.

    you might as well say the al Qaeda discourse of the mainstream tv news is not racist because there really is such an organization

  38. Molly Klein says:
  39. Molly Klein says:

    I saw the trailer
    thrre is a shooting of a guy in a trck
    letss talk about how realistic this is reallly
    my friend Maria whom I met in London is from Colombia
    her brothers in law were killed this way stting in their pickup
    they ahd pictures for their asylum ap
    of the blood and brains on the windshiled

    what i see in this supposedly trye realistic movie
    that you are claiming depictss this violence truthfully
    is for one thing slow motion
    and its socred with music
    and its beautiful
    andi who am witnessing it from within the car
    apparently lying on the sea next to the victim
    am perfectly safe
    without fear i can enjoy this magicallly slow flying of fake blood
    so no. there’s nothing realistic about it and the proprosition that its imposed on the filmmaker by realiyt is false – that some people are killed in cars like tbhis is no excuse for any of the images or stories
    what this is showing is precisely how that kind of thing IS NOT not how it is
    it’s not revealing; it’s disguising
    its not truth; it’s lies
    one can say but a film cant be realistic
    of course a film is a two dimension illusion a simulation
    exactly. what we should not be starting wwith is the assumption that an entertainment commodity is going to teach us something about narcotraffick, violence or death
    or that it can serve as a virtual reality
    the way the industry has duped audiences into taking its commodities for these kinds of educational products, sermons and virtual relaities is kind of amazing when you think about it
    more and more thee virtual reality illusion is displacing the didactic sociological illusion

  40. Molly Klein says:

    who reads about the DEA and the cartels and murders, or learns about it from friends or experiences contact with it, and says what i’d really like to develop my consciousness about this is a 90 minute long entertainment with brad pitt , scored with pop music, lots of celebrities talking and well dressed, where penelope cruz is running around and then there’s a simulation of her mutilated body. Then I’d really be able to engage with this reality of narcotraffick in north america

  41. Molly Klein says:

    These movies and shows about mexican evils…weeds, breaking bad, also along with these movies that other and demonize and poduce a figure heaped with fears and disgust
    go alongside and bolster the ostentibly non fictional discourse

    these evils infiltrating the wholesome homeland stories associate Mexicans (and central and south americans and US latin@s) with ‘illegality’ and lawlessness in many ways,
    there is an almost ontological illegality and lawlessness attaching increasingly to Mexicans and all latin@s in the Americas being elaborated in US discourses in many registers and genres
    and these fiction and themes in news are the accompaniment of actual state violence against the targeted, demonized populations

  42. Molly Klein says:

    and if we are not excuusing the fillm as some kind of ppolitical response to the reality of the violence in narcotraffic, but insteead saying this is the raw historical materual being used to create a structure to hang some Ahhht on, then we have to inquire about that, what that effect is, for us to enrich the ruling class by allowing its most recognizeable and pretty ruling class celebrities to parade and play make belleve before us plebs, at our expense…to make carocatures and roles out of this history that iis another means of their enrichment but wwhich this pageant serves to enact their disavowal of. By playing the narcotraffickers the rulign class denies tey are the narcotrafficers but sets themselves up as their other and critic; by performing for us the role of the tortured and murdered young women upon whom the ruling class oreys the ruling class appropriates their victimhood. We’re essential to this process – we help them/. Most people don’t but we the rung of society with enough scaess to the social product to consume entertainment commodities do. ASnd this kind of product puts us t work in more ways that mere passive attention labour donation, because we reproduce this validdity of the spectacle with its spectacle for spectacle
    s sake excuse at play alongside, despite the contradiction, the sociological, educational and virtuality excuses, that is essentiial to sustain increasingly abstact and manipulavle property claims and an increasingly flagrantly vilolent ruling class’ mask of ciivilization and psychic humanity

  43. Molly Klein says:

    and to discuss ‘realistic’ in thismovie the Counselor that is advertising that it is cliche stocked and following these old fables that were recycled as psychoanalytic alllegories; advertising its consciousness of it…Vizier, Maiden, Malkina (hebrew queen) Reiner (latin king) – seems completely nutty. Malkina and Reiner the names alone signal this is about the imagined conspiracy http://wonkette.com/427999/sharron-angle-harry-reid-is-an-illegal-mexican against the volk

  44. john steppling says:

    I mean jeez molly, for someone who hasnt seen the film, you sure wrote a lot about it.

    So, no the unseen is not a cliche. That description is possibley, sometimes a cliche. And this was my point in the last posting. Shakespeare is violent. Dante is violent. Dostoyevsky is violent., How man corposes pile up on the stage of Titus Andronicus>? Again, this was my point, you cannot imprint this template………which you do, on a film you havent even seen. If that doesnt speak directly to the problem I dont know what does. Geez, you think there is an agenda here? The agenda here is prove your analysis correct. Ive had this same argument with you for ten years now. I see little point in rehashing it yet again.

    “who reads about the DEA and the cartels and murders, or learns about it from friends or experiences contact with it, and says what i’d really like to develop my consciousness about this is a 90 minute long entertainment with brad pitt , scored with pop music, lots of celebrities talking and well dressed, where penelope cruz is running around and then there’s a simulation of her mutilated body. Then I’d really be able to engage with this reality of narcotraffick in north america”

    thats not what I do when I approach artworks. I dont think, gee, I want to engaage in this reality of narcotraffick i north america. Who does that? Who thinks that way? NOBODY i know. Maybe people you know. But i think we are running into the stupid zone here, These are false hypotheticals. So…..file under pointless.

    “and if we are not excuusing the fillm as some kind of ppolitical response to the reality of the violence in narcotraffic, but insteead saying this is the raw historical materual being used to create a structure to hang some Ahhht on, then we have to inquire about that, what that effect is, for us to enrich the ruling class by allowing its most recognizeable and pretty ruling class celebrities to parade and play make belleve before us plebs, at our expense…to make carocatures and roles out of this history that iis another means of their enrichment but wwhich this pageant serves to enact their disavowal of. By playing the narcotraffickers the rulign class denies tey are the narcotrafficers but sets themselves up as their other and critic…”

    again, you are imposing a broad critique of mass culture……which I often share in large measure, but…….and this is exactly the problem with so much of the left, the artwork then goes missing. The hatred and antagonistic posture vis a vis culture is what Ive written about for a year (among other things) with the left. Everything is reduced to leftist cliches in fact. That description doesnt fit a good many things………..and since you havent seen the film, all I can tell you, is its got very little to do with this particular script. But……..if one takes the position that everything funded by studios is morally bankrupt, and is only ONLY a commodity (and remember, I mean, Diego Rivera’s paintings are commodities…lots of things are commodities….being a commodity is inescapable………you and I are both, to a degree, now commodities………) then you end up in a sort of intellectual cul de sac. And one without culture. Without any culture……..because its not allowed except according to this secular puritanism of the left. Which frankly frightens me. I dont want to live in that world anymore than I want to live in this one.

    The problem is, and is precisely the problem……..that analsys has its uses. I write not disimilar things……but, if it is all one has, then praise goes missing. I never hear you praise anything. Never. I rarely hear anyone on the left praise things. And one of the reasons is that its hard. There is no accessable vocabulary for praise and I think it was marx who said, over enthusiasm for culture is revolutionary. But the left today would rather stake claim to its own cultural nihilism. And its honestly fatiguing.

    now this film happens to INCLUDE white supremacist violence as the root cause. Sadly missed by Trax, but recognized by Joe. This is simply a failure to listen and see with real attention. Not unusual these days. I see it constantly with students. Its as if they are blind.

    also, EVERY trope is now overused. That can be said LITERALLY about every single narrative today. Every one. So its a safe bet you can say it now about movies you havent seen.

    See how this works??

    So, because of the sheer volume of product, the sheer vertigo inducing amount of narrative product and commodity out there, increasing all the time….plus marketing and advertisements……….its impossible not to find precedents, structurally. What , however, remains for the writer are avenues of heightened craft, of poetics………and often I fear this is increasingly limited.

    And yes, the demonizing of blacks and latin americans and even more, arabs is increasing. However, not every depiction of a mexican is a demonized caricature. So…..in a sense, why are you saying this here? Yeah…..but not every one, not every film. Again, the difficulty is finding ways to recognize art and not kitsch. I know you sort of hate art…..or rather secretly love it, but its not your “identity” in public discourse……….this is the virus of leftist nihilism in fact. Destroy all culture because 98% of it is bad or reactionary or racist. I happen to value that 2% that is left. As I say, i wrote a play set in mexico. It has only one mexican character. its about a white fraudulent cancer clinic. I guess that should be part of this auto da fe as well.

    no oliver north is not happy.

    No, cops are not happy.

    And no its not realistic that white cops solve socities problems. Those were strange comments. And when I answere Traxus, about the fact that cartels are violent and depraved……it was in the context of his remarks, so dont take my comments out of context, please.

  45. john steppling says:

    you say

    ” ASnd this kind of product puts us t work in more ways that mere passive attention labour donation, because we reproduce this validdity of the spectacle with its spectacle for spectacle
    s sake excuse at play alongside, despite the contradiction, the sociological, educational and virtuality excuses, that is essentiial to sustain increasingly abstact and manipulavle property claims and an increasingly flagrantly vilolent ruling class’ mask of ciivilization and psychic humanity”

    Im not totally sure I accept this completly. Watching a movie is probably not directly related to property claims. I dont think the ruling elite needs movies to do that, they do it all by themselves. They dont spend this sort of money on something already in place, already hegemonic. No, its more an expression of their own sensibility. I dont think they consciously manipulate……….well, some do, but often its more like those burghers in Antwerp getting their portrait painted. The summer blockbuster is a second degree self portrait in a sense. But its not needed. This is my problem, partly, with some of this critique. Its not that one dimensional. Sometimes it works rather like that….but often its at work in other ways, and its this self correctiing aspect to the Spectacle that has becomes so insidious. There is no message beyond a normalizing of certain images. Those of police and military, and then the construction of this”real”. Thats all that is needed. Im not sure it extends as deeply as you suggest, nor do I think it has a “message:” per se. It performs functions, its a valorizing of reactionary and jingoistic ideologies and beliefs…….but only as backdrop. I think one can give too much credit to the ruling elite, to those morons who runs studios. They are only acting our their own personal compensatory vision, and thats why you get zombies at the gates of warner brothers. So the creation of the apocolypse isnt really a training film, and i dont know that it is there to normalize apocolypse. Thats not quite it. Its more a mixture of their personal drama, some unconsious compensation, or anger or whatever, AND it is a reinforcing of their world view………except that their world view is highly restricted. Its very narrow. It s astoundingly narrow in fact. The “real” they , the system, the studio heads, et al, that they have manufactured, is a very simplistic and redcutive almost childrens view of the world and it is without history, and it is, yes, representing their values. And the values of those even richer than they are.

    but sometimes, better films…or better scripts get made. And this was one of them.

  46. john steppling says:

    it, the spectacle, and the culture industry is also always exercising a proces of exclusion.

    They create fashion to be shopped. Always new, always SLIGHTLY different.

    and the rest is a scrict exclusion.

  47. Molly Klein says:

    McCarthy seems to rely a great deal on lowbrow sensationalism and to milk the power of racist paradigms and cliches without even a gesture to critique>>>you’re just supposed to assume he is reproducing these effects of horror and terror and exoticism the evocation of traditions of colonialist fictions provide for some noble reason or other that separates it from everyone else who runs this programmes to manipulate and entertain. His sensibility is very 19th century, I think; he works to provoke visceral responses to the phantasmagoriia of white terror and to reinvigorate these dead ideologcal phantasms of the terror and horror of savagery and the jungle or desert beyond civilization’s borders—his work seems to belong to the affective and ideological world that produced this:


  48. Molly Klein says:

    ‘I mean jeez molly, for someone who hasnt seen the film, you sure wrote a lot about it.’

    no i only commented on the names, the story and the trailer
    i’m writing about your critical practices here and the excuse that the racist fables are based in truth. my points don’t require familiarity with any pparticular film

    te giant ape is from King Kong which i have seen

  49. Molly Klein says:

    the unseen is a cliche
    “the agency”
    “the brotherhood”
    “the organization”:
    “the firm”
    “the head office”

    “who is keyser soze?’
    the firsT rule of fight cllub is…’
    ‘who are those guys?’
    “nowhere to run nowhere to hide’
    forget it jake it’s chinatown

    and on and on and on and on

  50. Molly Klein says:

    ‘I dont think, gee, I want to engaage in this reality of narcotraffick i north america.’

    exactly. but you excuse the racism of this film by saying but it was supposedly replicating this relaity exterior to the film so that you could engage with the reality of noarcotraffuck in north america by watching this film, that’s why it had to be so racist, so you could get to the reality of that. otherwise its not clear how whether it is truye of exctual mexican cartels is relevant to the remarks on the racist vision of ruling class white people beiing menaced by evil brown people. you were saying but brad pitt or his like really are threatened and harmed by brown savages and that’s why this entertainment depicts that

  51. john steppling says:

    I think McCarthy is a strange figure. On the one hand, he is certainly a vastly superior and deeper practioner of fiction writing than, say, Rachel Kushner or the like. He’s an amazingly good writer, line by line. On the other hand, his popularity is cause for suspicion. I admit that worries me…..sincerely. On the third hand, I think his voice is authentic …whatever we mean by that. He is a bit like raymond carver in that respect. His is channelling something that has resonance. It includes the undercalss, it includes history. It is informed by something that can only happen by listening. His work is wildly uneven. Blood Meridian is remarkable. I mean it recapitualted a whole sort of american invented mythology, without sentimentalizing it. Thats a huge part. he
    s not a sentimentalist. The one book where he gets sentimental is The Road, his worst book I think. But he understands the west, and the south, the working clas
    s. Those are not creations of the MFA grad. His father was a low level civil lawyer i think. Went to U of tenn without graduating. He is a strange sort of monomanical writer I think. He writes his story, the same story, over and over, with variations. Where he falls in the pantheon I dont know. I dont know how he’ll seem in fifty years. I wonder. What saves him is an instinct for these biblical landscapes that are the landscapes of the US. They are the places I grew up in many ways. Harsh, and uneducated, and violent. There is nothing colonial about his work. Thats just wrong. He is not manipulative. I think he is far better than that. I mean he’s probably not as good as robert stone, but better than richard ford. maybe. His craft, his technique probably does make him seem better than he is. But then again, that level of skill conjurs its own truths in a sense. I mean he’s in no way an analytic thinker. Its just a very resonant intuitive vision. But your hostility to him seems strange. Racist? No, not in anywhere you can specifically point to. I know because its not there. Colonial? Where do these ideas come from? I dont think he is, finally, profound. I think he IS a very very good writer, and probably some of the relfief he provides is as a corrective to the bloodless and bland and corporate voices of the MFA progams out there. But you prove this hostility by looking to diminish artists all the time. Do you not see this?

  52. john steppling says:

    “the unseen is a cliche
    “the agency”
    “the brotherhood”
    “the organization”:
    “the firm”
    “the head office”

    “who is keyser soze?’
    the firsT rule of fight cllub is…’
    ‘who are those guys?’
    “nowhere to run nowhere to hide’
    forget it jake it’s chinatown

    and on and on and on and on”

    Now I know you know how dumb that comment is. Of course, i said exactly this. You cant write any theme and not find fifty previous examples that are bad. That is not a cliche however. You know that very well.

  53. john steppling says:

    “. but you excuse the racism of this film
    You mean the film you havent seen?

  54. Molly Klein says:

    many thigns really are that this movie didnt depict. i am really typing on my computer. so that young women are really mutilated is not really much of an expanation of the effects of watching atrractive sumulations of a famous young woman harmed, asked to consider, to pretend for a momentmm that you are watching a whole reality that assigns blame for her suffering to someone other than ridley scott etc, to pop music score. I’m just saying this is always the answer when someone notees how hollywood films other and diabolize raced criminals and this otheer and race crimes and violencem expell it from ridley scott and posse’s rap sheet, — the person who enjoyed whatever simulation is being discussed always says but its realistic. in the real world all these evil people really are brown and all the white people really are movie stars just like in the movie

  55. john steppling says:

    Molly……. you have to stop these panic attacks about not being right. This isnt about winning the argument. Stop.

    You didnt see the film. When you see it, feel free to write me about it.

    Third………this comes down to the fact that you want the film you havent seen to be racist. its not. Joe was smart enough to see this. Joe is mexican. Joe is a great very sensitive viewer of film. I wrote about it and if people go back and read the posting, I made clear the problems. But no, its simply not this invention you want to foist off in this debate to further this agenda, which is fucking tiresome to keep listening to. This is not a WIN-LOSE contest. You are never going to admit something good came out of fhollywood, not even a screenplay. So……..why enter this debate? I always ask you this because it seems you are always talking past me, to some fictive audience in your brain. Its really pretty telling that you’ve not seen this film, but obsess about its racism.

  56. john steppling says:

    you know, i exchanged emails with giroux today, because he is on Moyers. And we talked about this leftist nihilism. Its pathological. Its scary. Nothing is good, nothing is pure enough, nothing is not racist, Nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing. And we spoke of the inability to express enthusiasm. The inability to not be cynical. Check the tone at the top…from Traxus about this film. Cynical and snide and snarky. Its like people are unable to not speak in “snark speak”. I find myself doing it a lot………..i think its like an infection born of a variety of forces. But it certainly saturates discouse.

  57. Molly Klein says:

    does this stuff diverge from the Hollywood rutiine where ‘unflinching realism’ depicts horrible brown people doing horrific fiendish things to white people and their wards and fantasy depicts badass white people orgasmically thrillingly blasting brown people and white traitors away? what’s the reason to watch this? I don’t ant to see penelope cruz in terror and mutilated. i don’t need t see brad pitt it another cowboy hat. I mean i don’t think you can even trivialize this stuff. it is trivial,, I’ enjoy reading critiques and reviiews because at least its about non ruling class people and their perceptions of the world and their engageement with ideas and stories. but these products are unwatchable,, i am reading cedric robinson now and learning, and there is in no way any denial of violence in human relations but instead some serious consideration of when how wherefore, and this is really engaging and i’m not bored and controlled and roared at andr being flung and poked around between disgust and startlemet and horror and stupid envy. I think we need to get to the ground level here about what this stuff really is and does and why it disguises itself, for some of us, as informative tours through epcott narcotraffic and learned essays on (bogus) psychology and theology

  58. Molly Klein says:

    agree strongly about masculinity
    one of the only not stupid things sontag once said was that we have tended to jettison admirable virtues because they have been coded as masculine and in our efforts against patriarchy and the domination and violence also coded as masculine we have been suspicious of all masculinity…including for example courage and honor. What she didnt get of course is that what’s needed is a class analysis oof all these virtues coded as masculine. But I agree very much tthat just the idea that masculinity itself is the enemy, lpathological, etc is the result of this way that bourgeois discourse expropriates and vitiates humanity’s intellectual emotional aesthetic moral products

  59. Molly Klein says:

    “. but you excuse the racism of this film
    You mean the film you havent seen?

    I don’t need to see it. Of course it is racist. THEY ALL ARE

  60. Molly Klein says:

    but thhe point was you were answering Ryan’s remarks about its racism by diverting into this pointless irrelevant discussion of whether it was “based on a true story”. You were invalidating the specific remarks about this films particular racism nit by engaging with it actual material content form pictures sound dialogue story but by this diveersion. Even if the film could be defended as not racist the thing I am objecting to isyour detour and deflection, which i have read. there’s no needn to see this aprtcular film to discuss this. And of course it is racist. every ridley scott film is. i;l tell you the next that isnt even made yet is also racist. so is th unmade next tarantino,. i know this. I’d have to be an idiot and a coward to not know or pretend not to know

  61. Molly Klein says:

    ‘his comes down to the fact that you want the film you havent seen to be racist. its not.”

    everybody is telling you this about Act of Killing> You want it to be racist but it;s not. It’s not because the filmmaker told you its not. He’s a very good person. It’s not because the audiences whom you feel are the target of this racism enjoy it. It’s not racist because you wouldnt know what racism was if it ran you over on its way to auschwitz

    what i have jjust said are empty dogmatic assertions. are you convinced? don’t expect me to be by same

  62. Molly Klein says:

    Nothing is good, nothing is pure enough, nothing is not racist,

    this doesn’t describe anyoen you’ve been talking to here. Just because one piece of shit you happened to really enjoy is not on the other person’s best films of their weeks list you declare IT A COMMUNIST PLOT AGAINST ART

    think about that

  63. Molly Klein says:

    I loved a movie i watched recently
    The Bad News Bears
    It was great

    soo there. I must be in a communist conspiracy against the individual, excellence, God and tracendence

  64. John, that’s a GREAT analysis of the film. If that doesn’t explain why we think this film has value, I think people are just blind, dumb, or completely closed to any kind of analysis. You and I have disagreed about film before, but even then I think we’ve both managed to shed light on the value we see in film, even if at the end we still disagree.

    Molly… I… I can’t even deal with your comments. It’s absurd that you’re talking about a film you haven’t seen and are refusing to see. And by the way, the trailer to this film is a piece of shit. It was a way of marketing the film to a larger audience and it left many people upset about the type of film they thought they were going to see. Sure, you’re commenting on the names, and there could be some interesting ideas there, but you’re already approaching the film with a closed mind. You’re defenses are up. And why? Because of McCarthy? Because of John’s opinion? Because of Scott? Because it depicts relations with the cartels? I don’t know.

    I don’t find the film racist at all, and if Penelope Cruz’s character’s body ends up headless in a dumpster after being made into a snuff video, that doesn’t mean that the film is immediately racist or misogynist. The action happens off-screen and the violence implicates everyone, especially the white characters, and especially Cruz, because after all, she didn’t want to know the price of her diamond ring. She chooses to look away, to be ignorant of her fiancé’s life style. As Brad Pitt points out – the audience of the snuff film is implicated. We, the audience, are implicated, so while we can view the film from the safety of our seat in the theater, we are changed, interrogated, and even indicted in the film we are watching…. so no, we are not entirely safe. And I think that’s why the general public and most critics panned it. They felt implicated. Whereas a film like Act of Killing, we get to point the finger. We get to accuse.

    I’m skeptical of McCarthy’s popularity too, but we have to remember that people like to attach themselves to the idea of prestige. It’s why Bardem and Pitt and Fassbender jumped on the chance to star in this film, despite the strange appearance of the script. If I handed a script that looked like McCarthy’s to Pitt’s agent, he would take one look at it and take a shit on it. But this is McCarthy, and these actors will increase their artistic integrity by associating their name with them, the same with Oprah. Ironically, it hasn’t worked out that way, because of the bad reviews of the film.

  65. John,

    Just one more note on Scott’s direction. It’s not that I’m defending him as a director, but I am saying that the best thing he could have done is get out of the script’s way. I think ultimately the film doesn’t feel well-directed and sort of rambles unguided – and yet it’s still more successful than Scott forcing himself upon the direction. It reminds me of when orchestras are left without a conductor to just play the notes themselves. The music is still precise and it’s still Mozart or Mahler or whomever, but the music lacks a vigor, a direction, and ultimately it sounds “lazy” or in some cases “muddled.” I think that applies to this film. But as you said above, Scott knows where to point the camera and take the lens cap off.

  66. Molly Klein says:

    now the bad news bears – the original – was really a nice movie
    it was consciously about solidarity and diversity, about good and bad ‘masculinity’ etc
    but one does notice the conspiuous absence of women/girls of color
    now should we shut up and not notice this?
    we can say but every movie doesnt have an obligation to have women of color in it…
    and yet the whole point, the reason this is a noticeable and meaningful absence in this one movie, is that is it ubiquitous, it is the constant erasure or invisibility of women of color even in these fine efforts that are conscious and antifascist
    the invisibility of women of color in that movie is not meaningful because it was in that one movie but because it is in that one movie and all others

    the illegal lawless mexicans aren’t invented for this movie either

  67. Molly Klein says:

    “Colonial? Where do these ideas come from?”

    did you read Blood Meridian? It’s an historical novel, post modernly derivative, reflexively textual and telescopic, borrowing also from istoriical films (the western) but mainly Cooper and Mark Twain, (and the glabrous guy from a spanish of a few years earlierl) whose sensational effects are wholly derived from existing tradition which is sort of turbocharged but not critiqued

  68. Molly Klein says:

    “. It’s absurd that you’re talking about a film you haven’t seen and are refusing to see.”

    i am not talking about this film
    that you are pretending i am is kind of strange
    i am talking about your method and your rhetoric
    and the bad news bears

  69. Molly Klein says:

    ‘ if Penelope Cruz’s character’s body ends up headless in a dumpster after being made into a snuff video, that doesn’t mean that the film is immediately racist or misogynist.”

    no rather it means it is constructed to entertain certain people
    not me…so:

    ‘We, the audience, are implicated, so while we can view the film from the safety of our seat in the theater, we are changed, interrogated, and even indicted in the film we are watching…. so no, we are not entirely safe.’

    so are you indicted or not? you turn this into yet another proof of your virtue and the films. what kind of indictment is that? if your point is you and john are kinda voyeuristic misogynist or whatever for wanting to watch this then confess that and accept that judgement. But instead this indictment is a feint; it becomes precisely the opposite – perhaps it’s other people who are indicted for enjoying this but you re enjoying it yet more virtuously for noticing that is has rebuked you for your pleasure.

    i am saying yeah i really dont want to see simulations of cruz suffering and then her mutilated corpse. even with the allibi that i am also being scolded for my enjoyment. because i dont enjoy it i dont need this scolding and in any case the scolding is really obviously just pretend – a way to prompt you to say “actually i’m not here for the mutilated woman but for the sermon about how depraved I would be if I were!”

    It’s this kind of constant massage of the audience’s self righteousness. How does the scolding end up letting you off the hook here? How does it turn out that the film saying “that you like this is nothing good” to your saying see that proves what a virtuous aesthetically wholesome thing we did watching today’s godorfulness?

    This play of moralizing about the sensations offered up bu the film – which I am taking your word for in this case – is increasingly common. That is the principal alibi of all this stuff especially when there is overt racism and misogyny, which may or may not be the case here but is thee case wiht everything I have ever seen from these sources..

  70. john steppling says:

    you kno what is most interesting. Only Joe and myself grew up in poverty. A queer mexican, from poverty, and a heterosexual white male from an alcoholically dysfunctional family on welfare. Our other interrogaters here went to elite schools…Cornell and Duke. Not poverty. I only mention this because its been my experience for most of my sixty two years, that only people from affluent families hector and scold others about things like racism in film. Maybe sometimes they’re right (they arent here, but…) and other times not. But I wrote recently that only the bourgeois class can afford snark. I think though, those personals aside, that its pointless to argue this.

    I mean no, they are not ALL racist. Such positions are embarrasing. They really are.

    Bad News bears is about solidarity. IF thats not a leftist cliche, I will never hear one. MESSAGE MESSAGE MESSAGE MESSAGE. I quote adorno….arts value is in its radical form, not its opinions.

    i liked bad news bears, the original. Its directed by michael ritchie who also directed Smile…..terrific film.

    I mean, only the privilged leftist can hate art. The underclass needs art, and survives through art. Their endless punishments are relieved by it. Not by entertainment…..contra sullivan’s travels……but by art. Not that there is anything wrong with entertainment per se. And Blood Meridian is not a colonial narrative and its funny because molly, you the self proclaimed anti zizek are now indulging a very zizkian arguement technique. The bad guys are white…but their violence against the dark guys is actually a display of racism because ….the dark guys are actually the white guys and etc etc.

    And yes molly, you ARE talking about this film. Do i have to go list the references above? Its idiotic to argue a film you’ve not seen and call it a discussion about rhetoric. I write this blog about racism and inequality and jingoism and militarism in culture….among other things…but very often those specific things, because they are so prevelant. In this case however, we are discussing a film that is written by a pretty significant writer and therefore worthy of discussion.So dont lecture me about the very things I write about all the time. You have a hard on about McCarthy….fine…join louis proyect, and Richard Seymour, and China Dimsville, and all of them, because they hate him too. I sense a theme emerging here. And its class.

  71. john steppling says:

    Dont lecture me, I should have said, as if Im not aware of racism in the culture industry.

    As a footnote………nobody is valorizing themselves except you, Molly. This is about the film…the one you’ve not seen, but know all about and understand magically…because, well, all films are the same…..except bad news bears.

    the footnote is that when the left attacks McCarthy, and Ive not heard a single defender on the left for mccarthy, I sniff the faint oder of importance in him. For the left never ever gets it right culturally. Not today’s left anyway. Either they are fanboys over at Jacobin or In These Times, or they are the stalinist Cromwellian armies of purity who demand SOLIDARITY!!! I really do not want to live in these worlds.

  72. Molly Klein says:

    ‘Molly……. you have to stop these panic attacks about not being right.’

    i dont know how you can say this when i am continuing after what i think was a pretty rude and insulting series of responses from you to ryan and to me. I am trying to explain, not “win”. if i think i am right, which of course i do, i will pursue my points until i”ve said all i wish; i don’t know why you would expect me to offer opinons i am ot myself convinced by. I am not in a panic. I haven”t cursed at or insulted anyone; I haven’t accused you of being at the root of THE DECLINE OF CIVILIZATION and a symptom of all that is wrong with the world, a human rot within the community, the ppison of slave moraltiy and ressentimentalism or whateverm as you have iin your attacks on those who disagree here; I think that’s really unfair.

    I am taking exception to certain rhetorical moves you are making that you would slam other people for making about crap you dislike. I am not hostile to McCarthy precisely; I’m certainly not harming him; I have a considered opinion of his work. It’s people like me who keep people like him in bizniz . And I really don’t accept this idea that one should just gaze in awe upon this product. It’s not divine; it’s not holy; its qualities are not ineffable. I have not read everything of McCarthy but what Ii hve read reminds me of bad nazi lit; it seems to be deeply misanthropic in that way that is all bound up with the fear – and provocation of real horror and loathing – of impurity, of feminization, of disorder and wildness and lawlessness imagiened as the failure of white male authority, whose pathologies are of course examined in this context where the Others are allegories of its various drives and sins etc

  73. Molly Klein says:

    “‘you know what is most interesting. Only Joe and myself grew up in poverty. A queer mexican, from poverty, and a heterosexual white male from an alcoholically dysfunctional family on welfare'”

    Why would the fantasies of the superrich in that industry appeal to you more than to me? Is class a factor? somehow or other but its not obvious how

  74. Molly Klein says:

    why is a movie about solidarity bad and a movie about competition and violence good? or is a movie only good if its not about anything? if its just an expression of the individual godlike auteir’s fantasies of mutilated and evil gals?

    there’s this kind of petty bourgeois art world dogma that misanthropic postures are sophisticated but really they’re just calvinist and moralizing

  75. Molly Klein says:

    and about studio films having to be art
    what kind of serious artist needs 100 million dollars the apparatus of a massive militarized corporation and the help of Brad Pitt to realize his art?
    I don’t buy this whole pose really. These are obviously people with other aims than your aesthetic enrichment

  76. Molly Klein says:

    so if i tell you I also saw the Iron Giant based on the ted hughes story, animation for kids, and thought it lovely and beautiful, and witty and funny -that is i forgot to play my assigned role of evil communist plotter who hates everything but was instead reasonable grown up who can enjoy a mass produced entertainment commodity – will I be vilified for my insufficient everythinghatred and lambasted because it’s “sentimental” (that is it doesnt titillate teen boys with sadism or reassure bourgeois viewers that the hoi polloi are brutish and to be controlled at all times) and reminded that we should prefer is to look at simulations of very sexy women being tortured and decapitated?

  77. john steppling says:

    I cant help you think McCarthy is a bad nazi. Duly noted. You think he’s a bad nazi.

    A movie about solidarity……the point is, for the 50th time, that narrative is more than message.

    You valorize narrative that presents a kitsch version of your politics. Fine Duly noted.

    Fantasies of the super rich dont appeal to me. Please duly note that.

    Movies about nothing are not good. Nobody here said that.

    I just spent fifty comments trying to explain what it was about. Joe understood. You didnt. Noted.

    Studio movies are rarely art. Sometimes they are.

    This is a film written by a very good writer. Its a very good script. The failure to see this is not surprising however. But, Ive noted already, “all of them are racist”. Got it, duly noted.

    Now youve not seen this film, which I am forced to keep reminding you about. So if you have a problem with rhetorical stances…..that also, is duly noted. Ive no idea whatsoever what you mean, but I duly note it anyway.

  78. John Steppling says:

    There is however, an interesting discussion to be had, maybe not here, about the idea of film art per se. We went round about this with Hitchcock. But so far, from your side, we have two children’s movies. That is interesting. And it is exactly at this point that the puritan moralizing begins. But that aside, these are studio projects too. Warner bros. made Iron Giant. I happen to dislike animation, but thats just me. The point is, what is the cutoff point for acceptable? Beyond what budget do films become sadistic and racist and horrid?

    You cannot praise a warner bros. cartoon…….and then attack another film because it was produced by an identical studio. We will just go on and on and on about this and its tedious and Im sure readers of this thread have checked out long ago. But i stand by my points about the left and culture. I see it, its predictable in the extreme, and its not changed at all in my lifetime.

    Now, Ive written for and collected paychecks from studios. I would like to think what I wrote was good work, wasnt racist, and wasnt misogynistic or reactionary. But, it was mediated by big capital. It was a commodity. Thats the system. Purity is impossible. If you demand this purity, then yes, by those standards even Bad News Bears is a horrid piece of racist reactionary propaganda. All those white kids hitting a little ball around. Titillating for twelve year olds. I mean what is the criteria? I can tell you, the entire left is like this………unless they are the Sunkara mafia that wants to like everything and shop for their favorite commodity. One has to try to see what might have value………i see it in the writing of this script. Less in Scott…….and I think Joe and I disagree a bit about that. But we both agree the writing is worth taking seriously. Totalizing and blanket condemnation leaves you having to condemn Bad news Bears……..and if not, then you cant condemn a film you havent even seen.

  79. John Steppling says:

    one final thought. The best art, in any medium, is always the hardest to talk about. Great art has no message. It has no meaning per se. It is exactly in the ineffable and mysterious mimetic meeting between work and audience that some effect is created, though effect is the wrong word. I mean Adorno spent the whole last two decades of his life writing his unfinished Aeshetic Theory. It is a book of many contradictions, and one in which terms like ‘mimesis’ remain frustratingly opaque. But that is as it must be I think. One can never write a very good description of the meaning of Hamlet, or The Divine Comedy. Or of Krapps Last Tape. Or The Homecoming. Or for that matter, Crime and Punishment. Or rembrandt or Nijinsky.

    Wittgenstein said that which we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.

    There is something in the West today that demands the concrete. And its understandable in one way, for given the mystifying project of the marketing industry, and the government, of a hyper branded reality, the endless new agey bullshit that confronts one daily, the normal reaction is suspicion. But…….that does not mean art, which is really a bad word now, that art must conform to some easily scripted explanation. The best work defies description. There is importance in trying however, and in discussing it, and in examining the ways in which it defies description. I try to do that. And I dont think careless snide accusations of racism are really in good faith. There is a generation now, which i said above, that cannot write about what they like. What they value. What gives them meaning or awakens them. They will be stigmatized for that. So they resort to the much easier accusatory dismissal.

  80. Molly Klein says:

    Great art has no message.

    ok but most people don’t consume great art if thats what it is
    we were talking about the mass culture. it has lots of messages and it is very manipulative

  81. Molly Klein says:

    love Giroux on Moyers
    but isn’t McCarthy precisely peddlng this vision of odious competition as natural and people as destructive and the scial as a war of all against all unless there is a familiar Authority? his fictional universes are built to exhibit ‘human nature’ under no structural constraints, an eternal scarcity and a near;y biological drive verson of tribal animosity and cruelty and exploitation without limits even in absence of accumulation
    a Reaganite/Thatcherite social darwinist anthropology

  82. John Steppling says:

    “but isn’t McCarthy precisely peddlng this vision of odious competition as natural and people as destructive and the scial as a war of all against all unless there is a familiar Authority? his fictional universes are built to exhibit ‘human nature’ under no structural constraints,”

    no, I dont think he is. See, I dont think at all. I mean, thats what is at issue, finally. My defense of this script isnt just arbitrary. Nor do I think was Joe’s.,

  83. John Steppling says:

    nor do I quite know the difference between great art and mass culture. Or rather, its not a very clear line. And today, with mass culture…. you have hybrid situations, collaborations, and one cannot say, well………something is shot in slow motion, violence, and scored with music as if that automatically disqualifies it from consideration. USUALLY…..yeah, but I just want to resist, crucially, that its not some cosmic rule of nature.

  84. everyone seems really mad for some reason, so i feel i should apologize even though it does seem to me that molly and i are the only victims of ad hominem insults and condescending dismissals.

    i don’t have that much to say about the counselor anymore, considering that our analyses of the actual film text seem to be invisible to each other. you can’t see the racist and misogynist cliches that i tried to list around 3 times, or understand that i’m only even discussing its politics and representation because you argued that it involved some kind of critique of the drug trade, capitalism, and white supremacy. and all i can find of your readings of the film are a couple brief references to famous actors like ruben blades and bruno ganz, featured in scenes in which “something unsettling occurs” or there’s an “epitaph on the white north.” but how you get from A (celebrity appearance) to B (insight) i don’t see anywhere. so i’m putting that argument aside until i have access to the script or the film (and until you, john, make up your mind about which one you’re defending).

    the thing that is annoying to me about the reception of the counselor among those who like it (you and joe aren’t alone), what’s too irritating to me to leave alone, is that they always seem to start from cormac mccarthy’s prestige. like your counterargument to my defense of savages is that don winslow is a trashy writer, john travolta is just unspeakably terrible, the leads are b-listers with funny names, and salma hayek and benicio del toro are mexicans white people like (sidenote: there are no mexican actors with significant speaking parts in the counselor), while mccarthy is a Great Man. this despite my acknowledgement that savages IS trashy and racist, while, probably more because of oliver stone than winslow, at the same time fitting your apparent desire for a critique of the drugs-DEA-CIA nexus much more plainly (though perhaps too literally for your taste) than the counselor.

    just as an aside, the character El Azul is indeed a caricature, but there is also a major real life cartel leader nicknamed El Azul, on whom the character was probably based. so it’s also ‘realistic.’

    last thing, this: “The camera doesnt tell the story (another reason for its unpopularity_) but the text tells the story and thats pretty unusual.” – aren’t most hollywood films just filmed scripts? i know i see very few in which the story is told primarily visually. most seem to me to be shooting scenes one by one with rote, conventional techniques. the counselor too is shot in a glossy, banal, ‘exotic thriller’ non-style, like one of the recent bond films. that i think this is part of why the film is aesthetically weak, that ridley scott respected mccarthy’s fame too much to turn his novella into something that makes sense as a film, perhaps just indicates that we have opposite tastes.

    oh, and just to be extra clear, though it probably won’t matter: i think elliptical narratives are interesting, and i agree it’s unconventional to have one produced by a major studio. BUT THIS ONE EXAMPLE IS STILL BAD, IN MY OPINION. an opinion i obviously can’t make a case for to people who feel strongly otherwise without access to the text.

  85. for what it’s worth, i did think the ruben blades monologue and the bit with leguizamo where they talk about how they ship the bodies were decent. the truck stop with the fake cops would have been compelling in a better movie. but these were exceptions, in which characters were talking about something other than how depraved mexican cartels and women are (which is about the first 45 minutes).

  86. John Steppling says:

    oh, Im so tired of this because everyone is talking past each other. So……..firstly dont apologize then follow it with more anger. You dont have to apologize anyway. Im not mad. Im just fatigued.

    so…..just because you list what YOU think are racist cliches doesnt mean they ARE racist cliches. There is a confusion about this. I read your reasons. I just dont agree. But….as I said later, in a comment to molly, the better the work the harder it is to talk about. Since I believe the script is very good (the film far less so, but more on that in a second) I think its a struggle to “explain” what it “means”. Ive tried to convey some of the aspects, the qualities of the narrative, that elevate it above the usual junk out there. But since , like all good writing, its impossible to provide these sound bite defenses, I can only refer to the above forty or so comments Ive made.

    You write:

    “and all i can find of your readings of the film are a couple brief references to famous actors like ruben blades and bruno ganz, featured in scenes in which “something unsettling occurs” or there’s an “epitaph on the white north.” but how you get from A (celebrity appearance) to B (insight) i don’t see anywhere. so i’m putting that argument aside until i have access to the script or the film (and until you, john, make up your mind about which one you’re defending).”

    this is what is fatiguing. The snark (which one I make up my mind about?). Firstly, as I say, I tried, with sincerity, to convey what I thought was of quality…..Im not confused about anything. I dont need guidance or your attitude about my alleged confusion. If you dont understand what I wrote, thats something for which Im not responsible.

    Savages is bad because its bad writing, firstly, and secondly, it very closely adheres to the cop story line of just about every TV show and crime film of the last fifty years. Now, oddly, I know benecio. I think he’s a great actor who has largely wasted his talent because he doesnt navigate his way through the mine fields of hollywood as astutely as others who care more. That aside, its not a film really worth talking about. The formula is in place and nothing new or of depth is realized in the film. THAT film is a colonial narrative. Its essentially Breaking Bad. And i like don winslow, but he’s a pulp writer, thats all. I like pulp. I like Winslow. The movie however is bad. On almost any level you can approach it from. Badly written, badly acted, and predictable.

    I think we could have a long discussion about what constitutes a cliche.

    No, most hollywood films are not just filmed scripts. They rarely give all that much attention to the script. The story board is what matters, the visuals, the “look”, the visual style. The fashion…..the sense of “new’….the scripts are pretty much always in a three act structure, and follow the McKee, Field, Snyder formula. THey provide back story and a certain well established logic. And the provide an easy political and social reading that the target audience can agree on. They dont try to do more. There are exceptions of course, but the script is usually in the service of the concept. The hook, the pitch, the idea of the film that can be marketed. D girls and execs rarely even read the whole script. The director is hired to realize an idea. A concept. Now…….there are all kinds of ideas………and increasingly a sense of insider knowledge. Pop culture awareness and commodity irony.

    Now, The Counselor, which I find myself defending way more than Id like, at least has the virtue of a far better script, a non formulaic script, and one in which there is no concept……and sure, it got made because guys like Brad Pitt want to be seen as in the know. And McCarthy is the literary star du jour. Twenty years ago, Nicholson bought up all of Jim Harrison’s books. Others stars have done similar things. I can only think of a handful of scripts written by really good writers……….Who’ll Stop the Rain, which robert stone wrote, based on his own book, and which is a pretty great post Viet nam noir. Same for Bright Angel which i mentioned, which Ford himself adapted…and which Fields re worked…with some suggestions from me. Its a great and horribly neglected film. But the studio was changing hands at the time and he got lost in the shuffle. But every once in a while good work makes it to the screen and almost always with great compromises and The Counselor is no exception. I think the best film of the last few years from the States is Blue Caprice. I think there are a handful of directors working in world cinema that are worth following…Amat Escalante, and Bruno Dumont, and Matteo Garrone. And for sure Audiard. In fact, A Prophet is, in my opinion, the best film of the last decade. I dont rank The Counselor in that category. But ……I know good writing when i hear it. Im interested in whatever McCarthy does, and this film proves sometimes that text can translate to the screen in a meaningful way. So yes, its a text driven film. Its about dialogue and character and ……(refer to previous forty or so comments).

    So you think its bad. Duly noted. You think its racist. Duly noted. And its not a matter of proving your right. Access to the text wont change that. Its not a blueprint for building a bridge. Its a narrative text. A screenplay. And here is where I feel most frustration……….because I think you fail at a fundamental level to understand how the audience, the individual viewer, processes a narrative. Or engages with an artwork of any sort. This is the heart of the problem because i dont care if you or molly want think its racist. I get it. I heard the arguments. But……….but when the demand is for some sort of message, or analysis, I feel like something very basic in all this is being missed. What is the meaning of Hamlet? What is the meaning of………i dont know……Waiting for Godot? Volumes, whole libraries could be filled with books on the meaning of Beckett or Shakespeare. And that is because you can never exhaust the meaning, because it is forever changing. The world changes, society changes, consciousness is historical and things and words and images all encode and inscript and absorb this history. Hamlet today is not the Hamlet of 1600. There is this cloaked instrumental logic at work here. Message!!! Adorno went on and on about this, about the fact that art has no purpose, no meaning, and that meaninglessness in a sense IS the meaning……for it becomes a repository of allegorical traces and even archaic echoes of things we have no words for. Because if thats not true, then I dont know why anyone bothers creating anything. Seriously, why talk about it, why make it, why watch it or listen to it.?? Art is not a lesson in morality, or an agit prop piece of incitement. Im fine with entertainment…..i love a lot of junk, and I consume a lot of junk. Ive spent my life trying to learn to write well. Trying to understand what makes soemthing, a text or an performance meaningful and haunting and that allows for some awakening. Id hate to think Ive wasted these last fifty years.

    Ridley Scott is a hollywood director of big budget films., He has the patina of a prestige director., He’s made some ok films, but mostly he makes forgettable junk. I think he didnt destroy this script, and Im glad about that.

    And molly and I are not mad. We’ve fought about this shit for ten years now almost. I value her opinion greatly, but I think she fails to understand art. Ive learned a lot from her, and i ask her advice all the time on a lot of topics, but she’s confused about this one area, in my opinion. So im sorry if it sounds like we’re actually seriously mad. We’re not. And Joe is a very talented young writer and filmmaker. And i think part of why I understand Joe, and he me, I think, is just our backgrounds.

    Ive taught writing for decades. Ive worked in theatre for thirty some years, almost forty, and in hollywood for over a decade. Id like to think I know how the business works. I couldnt sustain my career because I just was too angry all the time. The industry is run by very stupid and reactionary people. Its not a meritocracy, thats for sure. But when I teach, the first thing I try to impart is that there are no recipes. Its all very elusive and the best work is usually the work that demands the most attention, and provides the fewest answers. Questions, not answers, and not solutions and not affirmation. Ive noted over the years people dont like to hear certain kinds of notes on their favorite films, or their own work. I get that. And i also understand this is , these days, a minority position.

  87. John Steppling says:

    i wanted to add james wood’s sort of famed new yorker review of Blood Meridian. I dont much like wood, but he’s not dumb. He ends up sort of scolding McCarthy as too pessimistic. Whatever. Im pessimisstic. But if you read the excerpts from the novel, its rather hard to dispute McCarthy’s stature. And if you do, then like i say, you arent a very good reader…to my mind anyway. http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/07/25/050725crbo_books

  88. yes, clearly we are talking past each other, but if we’re unable and/or unwilling to make our arguments in terms of the particulars of the text (script or film) then there’s no mystery why, is there? if the point you’re trying to make is so difficult to explain then i’m sure you can understand how, without an actual reading, you’re just making assertions that will convince no one who doesn’t already share your conclusions? especially when the argument is over reading.

    precisely why i didn’t like the counselor is because i found its meaning to be all too clear, just sitting there on the surface. the form itself is didactic – most of the scenes consist of fassbender hearing people, mostly men, recite standard mccarthyan themes – death, fate, evil, the unfathomable threatening mystery of the world south of the border to the white mind, and the monstrousness of women. and i said at least twice that i think mccarthy is a great writer – he’s why i went to see it in the first place. of course as even you admit he’s uneven, and like james woods says he’s often corny. but maybe you’re mixing me up with molly.

    here’s my definition of cliche – a figure or technique carrying a conventional meaning used as a shorthand (or simply for its visceral effect), without any reflection or development. like when a femme fatale is a femme fatale is a femme fatale. elliptical narrative is an interesting technique underused by hollywood — used to great effect, i agree, in blue caprice, and particularly well by claire denis – but whether or not it works is highly dependent on the rest of the film. i could see it TRYING to create an atmosphere of claustrophobic dread, of the closing off of possibility and causal understanding in favor of the inevitable downfall of the milquetoast white protagonist, etc., but since i thought the rest of the film was crap that part doesn’t matter. why give established talents points for trying? it doesn’t strike me as an especially great accomplishment that a bunch of rich famous guys can get studio money for an unconventionally structured movie. it’s just disappointing that it wasn’t any better, since that’s still pretty uncommon.

    i’m glad no one’s mad. the big mystery to me is how i can agree with so much of what you write about aesthetics and art and still have a nearly opposite reaction (though i suspect it’s not as opposite as you’re making it seem) to this movie. but i guess i didn’t much like the canyons either — both total camp, but at least that film was honest.

  89. John Steppling says:

    Well, Trax, these opinions are predicatable. I respect you’ve thought them through. Now, In terms of The Canyons, I understand, and its not surprising given the conditioning the audience gets, even the educated audience. Whatever that means. Its interesting you use the word ‘camp’ because that seems one of the fall back positions when criticizing work that one hasnt the vocabulary to analyse, really. Schrader has never made a completly great film. He has made a lot of almost great films. Im not sure why it never all comes together. But The Canyons is a very contested film, and like The Counselor mostly hated. I happen to think that if one can actually watch The Canyons, without the knee jerk expectations ….both textually, in editing, in performance, then one can see that its actually a pretty radical film. Its like Bresson doing a survey of low end of Hollywood film culture. But I also see it in the light of Schrader’s whole career. I pretty much will always go watch whatever Schrader does, because even his worst stuff is considerably better than most films these days.

    As for The Counselor……..maybe you need to read what I originally wrote. Im aware of the failings. I wrote that in the original post. I only object the laziness of throwing out these critical cliches……..oh its racist etc etc etc etc. One can easily see the unconditional racism of stuff like Orange is the New Black, or Homeland. But Im simply saying, McCarthy’s script cant be lumped in with that stuff. Its an absolute failure of critical thinking to do so. God knows there are few enough things worth watching.

    Claire Denis is great. Beau Travais is an interesting comparison in a way to The Canyons. I mean its prety close to camp, too.. Im grateful when anything provides any sort of corrective to the usual junk. And anything McCarthy writes is worth listening to. And i wont argue how bad the acting is…….at least the main roles, though the small parts are as good as the main ones are bad. But throughout it all I can hear what McCarthy is trying to do. And often succeeds. I have no problem with the Fassbender character sitting and listening to various speeches from characters who never appear again. Nothing wrong with that. Mckee might not like it, but I think this is part of the strange structural questions he’s working out. And overall Im happy to have that. I left the theatre thinking, well, its really a shame that the casting was what it was. That was my first thought. But maybe being a screenwriter makes one more forgiving for good texts that arent supported by optimum direction. I guess Im able to see past that.

    But again, for the record, I would argue this idea of cliches. A cliche is a trite overused expression (or image, or trope etc), that betrays the thought behind it because it no longer conveys much of anything. I dont see that here. Not with McCarthy. One can take issue with his often melodramatic flourishs (all the pretty horses got to be called all the pretty sentences after a while)……..but he is never really bad. He is one of the few original writers in english today. He can be critiqued for a lot of things, as Wood does, but in the end, few writers can write the things he writes. Very few. Just those exerpts Woods pulls are remarkable. I forgive the rest. I said The Counselor is a minor bit of work by a great writer. And its got bad movie stars, and I agree with a good deal of that…..but, its still not junk, its still not close to cliched work. And its not racist.. I stand by that. And I think in general its important not to lump this sort of script, for all its problems, in with the usual shit out there. There is no comparison in quality. But i accept you see it differently. And i understand it. But i think it will be interesting to revisit this film in five years.

  90. John Steppling says:

    let me add, you claim that there are no particulars is wrong. Ive laid this out as clearly as i know how, and so has Joe. So on that score you really do need to return to the earlier comments. I find that sort of debate gambit tiresome Trax. Very clear and very specific sections of the story were discussed.
    What you claim is that the greater evil resides in the cartels and the whites are bumbling. Even a cursory glance at the film demonstrates this is false. There is a drug trade created by whites, and its the white northern apetite for drugs that drives the industry, and the white northern police apparatus that enables it. There is no dark heart in mexico. In fact the film demonstrates the fatalistic nature of both sides involved and trapped in a sense because it cannot change given the current authority structure and given the nature of capitalism. Now………its not heart of darkness =mexico . So hopefully for the final time that is clear. I understand you read it differently, but the talking past each other is not the result of YOUR claims of nonspecificity. God, Im so tired of this. Ok………..to summarize:
    unseen cartel leader is not a cliche. Its almost an architype actually.
    Heart of evil is mexico. Clearly this is also false as explained above.
    Lack of dramatic tensions and nhilism etc…….thats all provincial english class bullshit. You can believe it, but Ive spent my life trying to demysify the nonsense taught in writing classes.

    Bad acting. yes, in the leads. agreed.
    Does Scott romanticize violence etc……….Im not sure thats so easy to decide. I dont want to defend Scott though.
    The rest.,,,,,,,,,,i think………is in the above eighty some comments. But just to be clear, a cliche is only a cliche if it removes any meaning because of its over use. Its triteness. It becomse a place holder for meaning. All sentimentality by its narture ends up very close to a cliche. But narrative tropes and forms and structures……for example, a stranger arrtiving in town, or the leader of an organiziation remaining unseen or unreachable….these can be found in good literature, in stories of antiquity, and in modern trash and in serious writing. Everywhere. The fact such narrative structures are used over and over is because all stories have already been told in one sense. Originality is not a virtue per se. Same as dramatic tension is usually bad writing. And elliptical narrative is almost always superior. Familiarity per se is not bad. Originality per se is not good. Both are used differently in different situations. And one dimensional critiques of plot, as if meaning ONLY resides in a breakdown of the top text is the problem with how these things are taught today. The value of a narrative or any artform is not in the opinions and message being conveyed. I wish i could have this flashing neon banner at the top of my blog with that sentence in electric aqua letters. For forty years english departments have taught the exact wrong way to approach literature. From the crackpot stanley fish nonsense, to the provincial junior college and high school cliff notes version of literature, to the pomposity of the ivy league harold bloom reactionaries……..(and in the end Id rather deal with bloom than the rest, although…fuck me, I dont want any of them). None of it is of any value IMHO. Read Adorno’s Aesthetic Theroy, then read Benjamin, and then the countless narrower critics like moretti and bloch and even the new very unfashionable kermode and leavis and empson. The best book on a single author i know is Olson’s Call Me Ishamel. Ted Hughes on shakespeare, berrymen on shakespeare, and jan Kott on shakespeare. Taussig’s book on Mimesis, or Auerbach for that matter. Etc., I am sure you know the list, actually. But for some reason, the entire culture now either thinks art is a bad word, or that its always propaganda unless providing moral instruction. And the truth is, Robert McKee exerts a good deal more influence in this culture than any of the above because everyone really just thinks in movie terms. Everyone is a fan. Everyone thinks only in terms of suspense and tension. The result is what one sees daily on screens that seem to be how mankind experiences life now.,

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