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THE INFANTALISM OF CULTURE

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In an interview with the Radio Times, British actor Simon Pegg bemused on what he considered the infantilism of western culture. “Before Star Wars, the films that were box office hits were the Godfather, Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde and the French Connection – gritty, amoral art movies”, Pegg commented, “then suddenly the onus switched over to spectacle and everything changed.”

Pegg continued, “now, I don’t know if that is a good thing. Obviously, I’m very much a self-confessed fan of science fiction and genre cinema. But part of me looks at society as it is now and just thinks we’ve been infantilised by our own taste. Now we’re essentially all consuming childish things – comic books, superheroes… Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously!”

Perhaps this cultural shift is a sign of a greater decline into mass infantilism. The idea isn’t as ridiculous as one may think. The philosopher and cultural theorist, Jean Baudrillard, noted that the dominant forces in society often infantilize people to keep them pliable. And there is certainly a part of our personalities that longs for the innocence of childhood. As Stephen Fry commented in an interview with Dave Rubin:

“Nobody wants to believe that life is complicated, this is the problem. I suppose you might call it ‘the infantilism’ of our culture. There is deep infantilism in the culture and that extends in terms of the way they (people) think. They can’t bear complexity. The idea that things aren’t easy to understand, that there’s an um but there’s an ah, you have to think, there are gradations. No one wants that. They want to be told or they want to be able to decide and say ‘this is good, this is bad, I’m saying so. Anything that in any way conflicts with that is not to be born’.”

Today, the highest plateau of popular culture is ‘teen culture’. Hence our culture has become infused with completely vacuous entities: the Kardashians, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber. Many adults are fans of child and adolescent fiction writers: J.K Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, and the like. In her book, the Death of the Grown-Up: How America’s Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization, author Diana West commented: “these days, of course, father and son dress more or less alike, from message-emblazoned T-shirts to chunky athletic shoes, both equally at ease in the baggy rumple of eternal summer camp. In the mature male, these trappings of adolescence have become more than a matter of comfort or style; they reveal a state of mind a reflection of a personality that hasn’t fully developed, and does want to – or worse, doesn’t know how.”

More alarming, however, is the inherent infantilism evident in youth politics. Like insolent children, these youths throw temper tantrums anytime anyone dares to question their precious, and false, worldview. Ultimately, when these progressive young people back a cause it is to attain ‘street cred.’ They become social media crusaders. But those among their ranks willing to take up arms and lay down their lives for their cause is vanishingly small. These pathetic little snowflakes feel traumatised whenever someone has the tenacity to disagree with them (of course, they have no problem with intimidating those who disagree with them).

And colleges and universities encourage this kind of behaviour! The official guidelines at Oberlin College in Ohio suggest that lectures avoid using ‘triggering’ materials. University safe spaces give special, snowflake students the option of hiding from dissent. Similarly, many young people complain of ‘microaggressions’: small words and actions that are considered harmful despite their lack of malicious content. But in most cases, these measures are forms of oppression disguised as benevolence. They are a means of silencing voices of dissent.

Don’t allow yourself to be seduced by this cult of infantilising escapism. Instead of watching Transformers try watching Schindler’s List, instead of reading Twilight try reading Macbeth or Hamlet, and rather than hiding behind your safe-spaces, trigger warnings, and micro-aggressions try listening to what the other person has to say. Who knows? Maybe you might learn something.

THE PROBLEM WITH MULTICULTURALISM

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At a security conference in Germany, the former British Prime Minister, David Cameron, condemned multiculturalism as a failure. He stated: “we need less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism.” In a similar statement, the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, also condemned the doctrine of multiculturalism. Sarkozy told the French people: “we have been too concerned about the identity of the person who was arriving and not enough about the identity of the country that was receiving him.” In recent years, the Western nations that have preached multiculturalism and diversity as bastions of peace, tolerance, and diversity – Great Britain, France, Germany, the United States – have been the primary targets of radical Islamic terrorism.

Progressives like to believe multiculturalism and diversity create harmonious and peaceful societies. When, in reality, it creates division. Telling newcomers that they do not have to assimilate into their adopted culture fosters tribalism: Irish form communities with fellow Irish, Muslims form communities with fellow Muslims, Japanese form communities with fellow Japanese, and so forth. As these cultures, especially those lacking the fundamental roots and beliefs of their adopted countries, compete for supremacy, they inevitably conflict with one another. So, whilst Germanic and French cultures may be able to live harmoniously thanks to their shared Christian heritage, the same cultures would not fare as well if they were expected to co-exist with a culture whose central tenants are profoundly different.

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Why am I harping on about the inherent faults in multiculturalism and diversity? It is because I believe we have created the greatest culture mankind has ever seen: a culture that has produced Shakespeare, Mozart, Voltaire, Plato, Aristotle, John Locke, freedom and democracy, the television, the I-Phone, the movies, free market capitalism, Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Einstein, Newton, Mary Shelley, the Bronte sisters, and more. And I believe it is a culture worth protecting. And how do we protect it? We start by protecting the very things that have made the West so great in the first place: Christianity, an adherence to truth and a deep esteem towards the logos, the supremacy placed on individual rights and liberties, the free-market place of ideas and commerce, Small Governments, and political freedom.

Moral and cultural relativism is being used to tear down and replace the existing social order. When the Mayor of London, Shadiq Khan, is able to state “terror attacks are part and parcel of living in a big city” and young German women are able to hold signs proudly proclaiming “will trade racists for rapists” unopposed, it is clearly time for certain ideas to go away.

CASABLANCA

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For our weekly cultural article, we will be looking at the film Casablanca. Released in 1942, Casablanca delves deeply into themes of morality and human sacrifice, tentatively exploring both the good and bad aspects of humanity.

BACKGROUND

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The American Film Institute ranks Casablanca as the second greatest film of all time (ranked behind Citizen Kane).

The fact that Casablanca is still so revered, even after seventy-five years,  is nothing short of a miracle. The film was made on a tight budget in the style common to the studio system of the time, having been made on set with a studio director, studio writers, and studio actors.

Its script has been voted by the Writers Guild of America as the greatest ever written. That, too, is a miracle. The script was based on a play that was never performed: “Everybody Comes to Rick’s”, by Murray Burnett (1910 – 1997) and Joan Alison (1901 – 1992).  The task of adapting the play to film was given to three separate screenwriters, who completed their task in three different locations.  Julius G. and Philip G. Epstein (1909 – 2000; 1909 – 1952) would finish theirs just a few days before filming began. Howard Koch (1901 – 1995), on the other hand, wouldn’t hand his in until filming was well underway.

And even then, scraps of dialogue and scene rewrites were being rushed to the set, the ink still wet on the page.

THE FILM

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Perhaps one reason for its long lasting success is its refusal to be categorisedCasablanca is one part war film – being presented against the backdrop of the Second World War, one part love story – Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), and Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) are embroiled in a bitter love triangle, one part political thriller, and one part allegory – presenting both the best and worst aspects of human nature.

Another reason is the stellar cast it boasts: Humphrey Bogart (1899 – 1957) – considered the greatest film star of all time by the American Film Institute, Ingrid Bergman (1915 – 1982) – one of film’s most naturally beautiful women,  Claude Rains (1889 – 1967), Sydney Greenstreet (1879 – 1954), Paul Henreid (1908 – 1992), and Peter Lorre (1904  – 1964).

SUMMARY

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Naturally, no one thought Casablanca would be a hit, people weren’t even sure if the allies would win World War Two.  However,  as Alrean Harmetz wrote in Round Up the Usual Suspects: the Making of CasablancaCasablanca seemed almost destined to be a film classic:

“There are better movies than Casablanca, but no other movie better demonstrates America’s mythological vision of itself – tough on the outside and moral within, capable of sacrifice and romance without sacrificing the individualism that conquered a continent, sticking its neck out for everybody when circumstances demand heroism. No other movie has so reflected both the moment when it was made – the early  days of World War II – and the psychological needs of audiences decades later.”

I believe Casablanca‘s long lasting success boils down to its depiction of the goodness of human beings in the wake of great evil. Early in World War Two, Casablanca was Vichy France, and therefore Nazi German, territory. In the film, Casablanca is depicted as a world of corruption, a crossroads where Nazis, members of various resistance forces, criminals, spies, and traitors come together. It is a fascist society where the oppressors imprison millions, where human life is a commodity to be traded for benefits. No one cares about anyone, save for themselves.

The imprisoned respond to their imprisonment in different ways: some fight against it, others try to escape it, and others try to profit from it. In one scene, a man is shot dead trying to escape. He falls under a poster of Marshall Philippe Petain (1856 – 1951), the Chief of Vichy France. We learn he was clutching a Free France handbill.

Desperate attempts to escape to freedom are understandable. But the film also presents us with an array of lowlifes and criminals, and, remarkably, even asks us to express pity for them. Signor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet) is a shrewd and callous gangster who, it is suggested, profits from the sale of human beings.

The total disregard for human life is depicted in a scene where Ferrari offers to buy Rick’s friend and piano player, Sam, portrayed by Dooley Wilson (1886 – 1953). Rick refuses, saying “I don’t buy or sell human beings.” “Too bad”, Ferrari replies, “that’s Casablanca’s leading commodity.”

Then there’s Signore Ugarte (Peter Lorre), the North African black market dealer who represents disorganised criminal who profits from the misery of others. Rick ignores his pleas for help as he is arrested for murdering two German couriers in order to steal non-rescindable, French General Marshal Weygand signed, letters of transit.

Ultimately, Casablanca is a film of redemption and human sacrifice. It asks its audience to not only imagine winning the loves of their lives but asks them to imagine giving them up for the greater good.

Rick starts out as a cynical and resentful anti-hero. “I stick my neck out for no one”, he tells us at one point. By the end of the film, he has been transformed into a selfless hero. “It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”, he tells Ilsa.

In the end, Casablanca shows the power of sacrifice and brotherly love over tyranny and evil. Even when everything is lost, hope can be found among those few human beings who are willing to put their personal needs aside and sacrifice themselves for others.

FRANKENSTEIN

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This week for our culture article we will be looking at Mary Shelley’s (1797 – 1851) 1818 Gothic masterpiece, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. The story that gave rise to countless plays, radio-shows, TV shows, movies, video games, and created one of the most iconic characters in horror.

BACKGROUND

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Mary Shelley was inspired to write Frankenstein whilst touring Europe with her future-husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822), in 1814. On the Rhine, they visited Castle Frankenstein where they were told a ghoulish story about a mad alchemist who had attempted to resurrect corpses two centuries prior.

Two years later, in the summer of 1816, the Shelleys travelled to the Swiss Alps but were forced to stay in their lodgings due to bad weather. (1816, for anyone who is interested, was known as ‘the Year Without Summer’ – an event caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815).

There, joined by Lord Byron (1788 – 1824), they amused by reading Fantasmagoriana, a book of German ghost stories that had been translated into French. Byron suggested they all put pen to paper and see who could write the best ghost story.  Shelley, much to her dismay, was unable to think of a story. Then one night, after they had all gone to bed, Shelley had a waking dream:

“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of  any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.”

Initially, Shelley only thought her dream only gave her enough material for a short story. However, she was encouraged by Percy Bysshe Shelley to turn it into a fully fledged book. Setting herself to this task, Shelley finished writing her story in April/May 1817. It was picked up by publishers Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, and Jones and published in January of 1818.

ANALYSIS

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In one sense, Frankenstein is a cautionary tale. By using Victor Frankenstein and his creation as an example, Shelley’s classic tale warns us of the dangers of interfering with the world’s natural order. There are things in this world, Frankenstein tells us, that are beyond our ability to understand, and which are better left alone.

Both Victor Frankenstein and his creation are tragic figures. For Victor, it is ultimately his obsession with Natural Philosophy (that’s the archaic name for the sciences), his passion, and his unchecked ambition that lead to his downfall. In trying to play God, Victor creates the catalyst for his own doom. In the end, it is his remorse, shame, and burning hatred that destroy him.

Similarly, Victor’s creation is also destroyed by his hatred. This hatred, however, is not borne of remorse or shame, but of rejection. Victor’s creation is intelligent and articulate. He desires human companionship, but, due to his hideous appearance and massive size, finds people to be cruel and unwelcoming. Even Victor himself fails to see his creation as adequately human, not even bothering to give him a name (Victor’s creation is referred to as ‘wretch’, ‘monster’, ‘creature’, daemon’, ‘devil’, ‘fiend’, and ‘it.’) Ultimately, it is this rejection that leads Victor’s creation to destroy not only Victor Frankenstein, but also himself.

Frankenstein is ultimately a tale of what happens when we fail to see others as human. It reminds us of the limitations of human endeavour, and what may happen when we surpass those limitations. But, more importantly, it reminds us of the importance of love and compassion.

 

MARTIN SCORSESE’S THE AVIATOR AND THE INCREDIBLE LIFE OF HOWARD HUGHES

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For our weekly cultural article, we will be examining Martin Scorsese’s 2004 masterpiece, the Aviator: a biopic of the legendary businessman, aviator, filmmaker, and eccentric, Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. (1905 – 1976).

THE FILM

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The Aviator stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes, Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn (1907 – 2003), and Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner (1922 – 1990). It focuses on Hughes’ glory years and is set between the late 1920s and the late 1940s.

The film essentially follows two competing storylines.  The first storyline depicts Hughes’ struggle with his mental health, his battle with his worsening OCD and paranoia which, by the end of his life, would culminate in utter madness. In this guise, Hughes is depicted as a man whose intense germophobia renders him unable to touch the doorknob of a public toilet (he has to wait for someone else to open the door so he can leave), who washes his hands so ferociously he actually draws blood, who gets stuck repeating the same phrase over and over again (“the way of the future, the way of the future, the way of the future”), and who locks himself in his projection room for months on end.

The second storyline focuses on Hughes’ life as an entrepreneur: his success as a filmmaker, his successful career as an aviation pioneer, and his fight with the Senate War Investigating Committee. In this guise, Hughes is depicted as a man of unbridled ambition spurned on by his incredible early successes and comforted by legions of romantic conquests (which would include Katharine Hepburn and Ava Gardner, among others). The film opens with Hughes directing the Hell’s Angels (1930). An early theme is quickly established, with Hughes’ peers ridiculing him for his boldness and ambition.  By the end of the film, Hughes defies prediction by successfully test flying the H-4 Hercules.

HOWARD HUGHES: THE MAN

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The Aviator ends after Hughes’ after the successful test flight of the Hercules. In real life, Hughes lived another twenty-nine years and died a lunatic and a recluse. If you happened upon the man during the final years of his life you would describe him as an impoverished and gaudy man of six-foot-four. When he died of kidney failure in 1976, he weighed only 40kg, had grotesquely long fingernails, toenails, hair, and beard, and had hypodermic needles embedded in his arms. So unrecognisable was Hughes that the FBI was forced to rely on his fingerprints to identify him.

Howard Hughes ought to be remembered, and admired, as a brilliant businessman and pioneer. He was an eccentric perfectionist who, between the ages of eighteen and seventy, managed to amass a personal wealth of one-and-a-half billion dollars. He was a man who made remarkable, and often groundbreaking, successes in film, aviation, and real estate. Between 1926 and 1957, Hughes produced twenty-six movies, including Scarface (1932) and the Outlaw (1943), and directed the classic World War One air warfare film Hell’s Angels (1930).

As an aviator, Hughes’ not only helped to revolutionise air travel, he also set many aviation records personally. In 1935, Hughes set the overland flying record by travelling nearly 352mph over Santa Ana, California. In 1937, Hughes set the record for transcontinental flight by flying from Burbank California to Newark, New Jersey in seven hours, twenty-eight minutes, and twenty-five seconds. Then in 1938, Hughes, along with a four man team, circumnavigated the globe in a record three days, nineteen hours, and seventeen minutes.

In a re-release trailer for Hell’s Angels, Howard Hughes is introduced as:

“Howard Hughes: millionaire genius, was a pioneer in aviation and motion pictures. He defied convention,  set new patterns for others to follow, made stars of unknowns, and left the world a legacy of film classics.”

Howard Hughes represents a type of man that doesn’t really exist anymore: the bold, dashing, larger-than-life individual. A man who achieved incredible things against what was often overwhelming odds. It is characters like Hughes that build countries and improve the world we all live in. And it is films like the Aviator which presents their stories to us.