We watched Total Recall the other night. We were discussing all the ways that eras of cinema manifest unique discursive practices. For example, in the silent era you will always see a chase sequence where one character runs through a bunch of different scenes and then another character runs through all the same scenes, shot exactly the same way. It’s maybe supposed to make it super clear what’s happening, in a cinematic era before many of the clichés and viewer abilities of the modern era were established; today, we don’t need to be so clearly shown the precise path along which one character is chasing another character in order to comprehend that a chase is indeed taking place.
Watching movies of the 1980s now that so much time has passed reveals some similar generational trademarks. Specifically, w/r/t Total Recall, we were really struck by two discursive practices that are no longer standard in Hollywood cinema: one is the era’s predilection for close-up shots of dudes getting kicked in the nuts, specifically by women (almost always a close-up of a foot landing squarely in a crotch, followed by a close-up of the man’s face with eyes bugging out as he yells “GAAH”); and the other is these movies’ tendency to linger on long, graphic sequences of violence in which random pedestrians are killed in crossfire. Such sequences now seem totally horrifying, especially because the incredible slaughter of countless random extras is never lingered on in any way; I mean, you’d think if you were just a regular guy who suddenly found himself chased by thugs, and you accidentally mowed down like 25 people on an escalator with a machine gun, you would have some feelings about that, at some point, like maybe you’d be like “I can’t believe I murdered all those innocent people” or something. But no. There’s this incredibly violent sequence in Total Recall where Schwarzenegger–the good guy!–not only mows down 25 pedestrians with a machine gun, but then grabs one of them and uses him as a human shield, first in one direction, and then in the other. It’s like a full 30 seconds of this random extra getting shot with thousands of bullets and jerking and flopping crazily around before Arnold tosses him casually away.
“Brutally mowing down peds is so 80s” said my husband, and then we started laughing so hard at the idea of making a new movie that focuses on one of those mowed-down peds as its protagonist in some way. Our movie might open with this guy getting brutally mowed down by crossfire, but then it would cut to that guy’s wife getting a phone call at home while cooking breakfast for the kids.
“Ma’am, I’m so sorry but your husband has been killed.”
“Oh my god, no!! HOW?”
“Well, he was on the escalator on his way to work, when a man who until recently had been suffering from intentionally-induced amnesia used him as a human shield in a fire fight with members of a corporate gang of thugs who were trying to capture him.”
“Oh my god”
“Yes, and–actually it was pretty funny–he was not only brutally mowed down in the crossfire of this epic battle, but one of the shooters–actually, it was the guy with the amnesia–used him as a human shield for quite some time, even at one point going so far as to flip him around to face the other direction so that his body became ever-more riddled with an insane number of bullets before being casually tossed aside like a piece of garbage.”
“I’m sorry for your loss”
Then the movie would be about this woman recovering from this horrific trauma, putting her life back together, explaining to the kids what had happened to their father, and then ultimately finding new love and perhaps a new career as an attorney fighting for gun control.
Boobs are also very 80s. So many boobs!
In other news, it’s autumn now at last, and the air is chill and tinged with woodsmoke. It’s time to dig up the garden and I am avoiding doing it because I am lazy. Instead I would like to sit on the porch and listen to geese fly by overheard.
Today in the park with the dog I had a surreal aural experience: I heard a flock of geese goosin’ by in the sky, and I looked at where my ears told me they were, but I saw nothing. Their voices got closer and closer, but nary a goose could I see with mine eye. They flew right overheard! I know I was not mistaken, yet never a goose did I see. I believe they were obscured by a high fog or low cloud that I couldn’t distinguish from the higher more normal clouds in the gray morning sky. It was bizarre. It reminded me of that part in The Road where he describes the last bird he ever heard, some old dying raven croaking above him, made invisible by black smoke.
I love geese in the sky although I am frightened of them when near them on the ground. My favorite bird is goose in the sky; on the ground I’d have to say penguin.
I’m still on teaching leave! It is decadent. My brain expands like those novelty sponge animals you pour water on. Having so much unscheduled time to focus on just one project has been an unbelievable privilege and pleasure. The time is flying though, like an invisible goose flying south to the Bahamas. I’ve gotten a lot done and right now am kind of taking a self-appointed break. A few days off to bum around and not do yard work. I’m in between bouts of crippling anxiety so I want to enjoy it. I rejoined the YMCA and am headed there now, to pump some iron (a.k.a. do 20 minutes on the elliptical while listening to comedy podcasts). I pay extra for the fancy locker room because I am a bourgeois pig and it is great, there is a sauna and a place to stretch where you can dim the lights.
Quick Hot Takes
– I think the Elena Ferrante exposé is weird and boring and I don’t know why the editor of NYRB saw fit to run it; why can’t somebody publish novels anonymously if they want to? Jesus Christ it’s not like this person is running arms to Iran or something, give it a rest
– I am reading so much Ursula LeGuin and a lot of it is so good I can’t believe it
– I am trying to read Wodehouse to please my father but I find it exhausting. And I say this as a deep anglophile who has vast swaths of the Python repertoire (including a lot of non-canonical weirder bits) memorized. I will soldier on because I love my Daddy and am a good girl
– Hell or High Water is a very good film and is very sad and makes a very firm statement about class, capitalism, and even the historical plight of Native Americans. I can’t stop thinking about it. Also you must believe the crazy tale I am about to tell: literally the day before going to see this movie, we had watched one of the new Star Trek movies, and we were talking about how much I dislike Chris Pine. My old man said he thinks Chris Pine is not a bad actor but rather perennially miscast as a yelling heroic hunk when really he has sorrow and self-doubt inside of him and should be capitalizing on those qualities. Then he said and I quote: “I think Chris Pine should play a well-meaning deadbeat dad who loves his kids and has a good heart but just can’t get his shit together, and is full of shame and self-loathing.” Then we randomly pop in to see Hell or High Water and guess what kind of character Chris Pine plays in it?? And he is WONDERFUL. Now I am trying to get my old man to become a sought-after casting director. My old man is very good at vibes. He can tell so much about people from carefully observing them with his detail-oriented, self-effacing Virgo vision. He watches and listens and then he makes amazing announcements like “THEY DON’T LOVE EACH OTHER ANYMORE” or “THOSE TWO ARE SECRETLY FUCKING” or “THAT GUY PRETENDS AT DELIGHTFUL BONHOMIE BUT IS ACTUALLY A BAD PERSON” or “THAT GIRL IS A RUSSIAN SPY” and he is always right
– The Snoopy went to boarding school for a few days and when we picked him up they gave us a printout of information about his stay, and it said he enjoyed “sunbathing” and “watching the action” and that he preferred “cuddles with Counselor” to playing with other dogs, and also that he was shy and wouldn’t eat his food. My sensitive baby!!! Then he came home and slept for about 20 hours. The good news is his oozing elbow callus healed right up with some antibiotics and copious application of “elbow butter.”
– I have written yet another angry letter to the New Yorker about free market capitalism; I doubt they will print it but I am tired of their bullshit
– My favorite part of the debate was the phrase “the computer aspect of cyber”
– My favorite part of this election cycle is reminding myself that we will all be dead soon
– The only election-related news I will tolerate is my hero David Rees’s podcast (Election Profit Makers)
– I wonder if David Rees will ever know how much he has influenced me, specifically the way I express anger humorously in written form? Maybe I will leave him all my money when I die. He is a national treasure and like so many national treasures he is under-appreciated but I hope he will soldier on. I once paypalled him $15 when his laptop broke; look at him now, making a podcast with Starlee Kine and traipsing around Portugal accidentally spending 200 euro on a fucking lobster!
– I am growing my hair out and soon will have luxurious braids flappin’ in the wind
– I’m slowly changing my self-identification from a liberal arts professor to a proud unionized state employee at a public university. This is a major transition in my life. How can I use my liberal arts teaching profile to serve this very different student population that I am passionate about, and how can I keep myself sane working within the Kafkaesque nightmare that is the bureaucracy of the massive state institution? These are interesting challenges.
– The first book we’re reading in my reading group is Wendy Brown’s “Undoing the Demos.” I’ve already read it and it’s amazing, as is Brown’s other book “Edgework.” These are a great starting place for anyone interested in neoliberalism, along with David Harvey’s “A Brief History of Neoliberalism.” If this is your first jaunt into the topic, don’t be daunted, just prepare to do a lot of wikipediaing and googling until you get your bearings. Like any scholarly writing, these books take a lot of pre-existing knowledge for granted; they have to, else they could never get to their complex, devastating arguments. So like, they assume you know what the World Bank and IMF are and how they function; they assume you know some basic stuff about capitalism and Marx; they assume you know what phrases like “political economy” and “social democracy” mean; stuff like that. But some swift googlin’ as you make your way through these books will quickly set you to rights. Indeed, I read Harvey’s book before knowing ONE SINGLE THING about capitalism, and it took forever and entailed a lot of extra reading and I took a whole notebook full of notes, but then when I was done I knew so much new stuff, and was then able to read more and more books and have more and more nuanced responses to them, which is how learning works (this is an implicit critique of all the people who get mad at academics for not writing in a way that “anyone can read.” Certainly some academics are garbage writers but still y’all gotta take some responsibility over your own education!). Get ready to get mad as hell and feel totally helpless and overwhelmed by horror! Plus if you read these books then you will be all set to read my book if/when it comes out, nbd
I will keep you posted as we read more books. We are going to read one book a month and I don’t know what the next book will be.
Found this old picture of the snoop