Monday, 21 December 2009

Shocking and Not Shocking

Was reading Wikipedia recently and came across two articles about two figures in popular culture. The first was Stanley Kubrick, whose film The Shining I’ve just ambivalently ordered. I’ve often been interested in the blurring of boundaries between directors and cinematographers, and I tend to think of Kubrick as a master cinematographer rather than as a master director (and for any smartarses who want to quote David Mamet: if you come out of a film and even the cinematography’s crap, you know you’ve seen a Mamet film).

The Shining is probably much as I remember it, a towering performance (ham or no ham) by Jack Nicholson but apart from that, typical Kubrick: gorgeous photography but with a dull, pompous script. The only really good Kubrick film overall that I’ve seen was A Clockwork Orange and perhaps it’s no coincidence that he didn’t really write the script (they read the novel on set and then thought of filming).

However, I’m digressing somewhat. When I read his wiki page, it didn’t really shock me to read that he was economically on the far right and was fairly resigned about warfare. Perhaps this is because Kubrick’s vision was intrinsically dark and anti-humanistic. His right-libertarian views were quite similar to Frank Zappa’s and maybe it is due to America's multi-ethnic, multi-cultural composition, but Americans have traditionally had less of a focus on their poor.

Which is not admirable in itself, yet i would say at least Stan and Frank saved themselves from self-betrayal.

Reading this, I was really horrified
. I'm not a great fan of Waters or Pink Floyd, but say it ain't so? The band that touched us all with The Wall and its portrait of urban poverty performing for the countryside alliance!

I accept that animal rights is a complex issue, but it goes deeper than the matter of foxhunting (which I find a sickening idea in itself), but a deeper trend to see our plutocracy as some kind of true force for freedom in Britain. I accept that battery farming is probably crueler, but I can't imagine anyone being seen as some kind of libertarian Lohengrin for saying battery farming misery is worth bargain chicken drumsticks. Whilst I am pleased they've banned foxhunting, my views on the countryside alliance are not so much formed by this as by the way they are portrayed as guardians of liberty.

Just look at The Tatler's portrayal of Bryan Ferry's son as a Kensington and Chelsea Solzhenitsyn for being obnoxious to people in his quest to re-legalise tearing fluffy ginger quadrupeds to pieces. I can sleep soundly knowing that the CCTV saturated/DNA database/ ID card/tasering police state they're constructing will be stopped in its tracks by his heroic pursuit of the freedom to gloat over a dismembered fox. (And incidentally, another one for the evolutionistas. His mum is a right proper aristocrat and she was arrested after she parked her car in the middle of the road and left it locked when a police van was RIGHT BEHIND HER. I mean I'm not 'the cream of society' but that really is bloody thick).

Yet this is part of a wider picture by which our civil liberties are being flushed down the toilet whilst selfish toffs are praised as freedom fighters because... well, they like ripping animals to pieces and they support the right to be selfish against the state. Just look at Boris Johnson, who is portrayed as some kind of Periclean libertarian?

Boris's reputation for freedom like the right's in general seems to be based on the Hayekian argument that free enterprise is the beginning and end of freedom. Which is a pretty good laugh for we quasi-war-nerds who know that the Nazis lost because their corporatist system gave their contracts to private sector companies who produced the coolest and most savage (if not the most efficient) military hardware. In tactical terms they'd have been better off following uncle Joe and nationalising the whole thing, but boy did the Nazi private sector not produce some pretty gnarly stuff.

Yet the role of IG Farben, Porsche, Mercedes Benz, Henschel and Son, Krupp etc of supplying the hardware of the Nazi regime is either too inconvenient, too obscure or too interesting for our Hayekian overlords who patronise market fanatics as lovers of freedom regardless of their actual human rights record (look at the gushing praise for Pinochet and Yeltsin).

However, whilst our hegemony of near identical journalists continue to heap praise on the far right concept of freedom as the only viable one, we are slipping into a police state. As for the economic left of which Waters was once a part, it's decline has been even sharper, largely because it was based on the idea that caring for the poor could occur without taxation. His collaborator Gerlad Scarfe has been moving onto similar territory: it was fine for the trendy left to attack Thatcherism, but that's not quite the same as supporting an economic left.

Yet the shock that Waters who wrote an album portraying the rich as (literal), capitalist pigs has metamorphosed into Victor Hazel was nothing compared to the shock I felt when I read that Eric Clapton (yes, Eric Clapton) also performed for The Countryside Alliance!

Again, I realise that this may sound a bit weird, given that I know he endorsed Enoch Powell. Yet I also think (though I am prepared to be proven wrong) that Powell was not the quasi-Fascist he is often portayed as but someone whose message was delivered in the wrong words at the wrong time (and it was adopted by the wrong people).

Yet the thought of Clapton supporting the countryside alliance is somehow even more disturbing for me, because of what the CA represents. Not that I really care much about the CA in itself, but because it represent the corrosion of ideals. One could almost call it a compromise with utopia: they've found their 'utopia' amongst the aristocracy.

I recently bought a bargain price Cream CD. Whilst I dislike the way that Jack Bruce has been written out of the Cream story (not to mention Ginger Baker), I possibly wouldn't have bought it if I'd known Clapton would turn into such a tragic old fart.

From now on I'll never say a bad word about Paul McCartney. Ever again. No matter how pompous he becomes. Or how much he bullies Ringo.


  1. I really think that the Shining is an excellent film - there is actually a lot of subtlety in the relationship between Jack Nicholson's character, his wife and his son - that tends to be missed out on a first watching of the film when it's easy to focus on the second half of the film where he goes mad & hams it up.

    That understanding of the family dynamic - the resentment of jack towards his wife and child - his wife's compromising for the sake of the child - are really ordinary parts of unhappy family life - in a way that's what makes the film so unsettling - the way Kubrick captures that ordinariness in what is originally a really over the top Steven King story.

    I also think that Eyes Wide Shut is an excellent Kubrick film - really unsettling with an essential truth about the jealousies and fantasies within relationships at the centre and a really creepy nod to the idea of a decadent, base American elite.

    Clockwork Orange is also a great film, though I think it's more of a violent romp which is kind of good fun despite the violence (which actually seems fairly tame when you consider films like Saw III) - great music and imagination in the film - I love the bit when he's in prison and converts to Christianity but is actually enjoying the violence of it: 'I could really vidi myself helping out, and maybe even taking charge of the whipping and the nailing down, dressed in the height of Roman fashion', but maybe not, for my money, with the same subtlety of some of the characters in his other films.

    Anyway - apologies for the longwinded comment - I actually watched The Shining the other night (good time to watch it with all the snow!), so I've been thinking about it a bit.

  2. Hi Gar
    Cheers for the comment, not at all long winded and very interesting. The Shining just arrived this morning, so I’ll look at with your thoughts in mind.

    I do remember that it did capture something I’ve noticed in families (perhaps more acutely because I don’t really have a family of my own as such), which is that parents often seem closer to their children of the opposite gender. Whilst Jungian theories are no longer fashionable, I do think there was something in his anima/ animus ideas.

    Admittedly I wouldn’t have bought it were it not a special edition with notes on the making (largely because I am a photography fanatic). I hope to get the book in a charity shop sometime (I actually have great respect for Stephen King: he seems a top bloke and has a great imagination, even if he’s not exactly a Sophoclean stylist). Still, as you say, Jack Nicholson was very good in it, even if many critics savaged the performance.

    It’s interesting given our conversations about HP that ‘critics’ seem to shower praise on writers and actors who capture banal states of mind, whilst audiences prefer actors like Nicholson or writers like HP. There’s a really brilliant Brit film on youtube called ‘Theatre of Blood’. It is an effective horror but often hilarious as well because the joke is that Vincent Price thinks he’s a genius and takes revenge on the critics who attack him for being a ham. There’s a priceless scene where he bursts in on the critics to claim his ‘rightful property’, a best actor award that they’ve given to someone else.

    But there are some lines that a lot of people miss in the film, where Price mentions his popularity. Whilst 1971 might have been a bit before the whole metatext thing, it is interesting given that Price was himself a critically deplored yet immensely popular actor.

    I’m afraid I find Tom Cruise really annoying, though I also think in some regards he seems an almost perfect Kubrick star in that I think he really tries to project a totally false image of who he is to the world (in some regards he is like an unselfconscious Peter Sellers).

    ACO is still my favourite Kubrick film; the music, the set design, the acting. This is probably subjective because I think it actually gives an interesting view of anti-humanist, anti-utilitarian ethics and because for me the 70s is an almost mystical decade where post-war utopianism fell on its arse. Oddly, I heard according to a poll, the British people were happiest during the 70s, but all we hear about now is how awful it was; I think I'd prefer to live in a poor but cohesive and independent society, but we seem to have almost a false consciousnes about what happened then. The British scenery and post-war architecture really frame the film in an almost fairy-tale way.

    My favourite scene is where Alex meets his old droogs in ER police uniforms ‘Evidence of the old glazzies little Alex’ in a concrete wasteland. There’s a really great combination of Carlos music, Dim’s gibbering, and Alex’s pleading as they walk through a winding road. Then they thrust his head into a trough and beat his kidneys. Malcolm Macdowell almost died in that scene because his oxygen pipe came undone and the actors thought he was just acting when he struggled.

    I also can’t help loving the way that ACO is a futuristic fantasy, but its set in such a retro-looking Britain.

  3. ACO is a really entertaining film - there's no doubt about it - have you read the book? I've forgotten the author's name just now and don't want to rely on google to be my new memory - but it was partly inspired by his wife being beaten up by a group of squaddies which caused her to lose a baby she was pregnant with.

    The use of the language in the book is really brilliant the Russian and (I think) Shakespearean English - I think he used those forms rather than rely on the slang of the day, like 'groovy', or 'cats' (!), to stop the book from dating too easily.

    In some parts the book is more grim than the film - I think the girls that little Alex takes back to his room are only about eight in the book - rather than the nubile females in the titillating equivalent scene in the film. But the ending of the book is more hopeful, with Little Alex growing tired of his new set of droogs and giving up violence voluntarily.

  4. Yes, read ACO a few times. Originally I read the edition with the brilliantly simple cover (where only red, green, cream, black and white are used) that just raised so many questions in my mind that I felt I had to read it.

    It was written by Anthony Burgess; who didn't write any other book I'd recommend. The odd thing is that whilst he wrote a brilliant slang in ACO his other books are awful because the dialogue is unbelievably bad. Ironically enough, he studied linguistics.

  5. Countryside Alliance?!!! Good grief!

  6. 'Countryside Alliance?!!!'

    Alas, there were even more aging rockers, some of whose names I forget.

    Thanks for the comment, I'm a regular reader of your blog and would advise everyone else to visit Anna Chen's excellent website which has a lot of interesting coverage of politics and culture:

    Incidentally, I came across 'Madam Miaow Says' via Neil Clark and would also encourage anyone who doesn't already to visit:

    Whilst I disagree with Neil on some things (not least Clive Dunn's vocal 'talents') his blog seems to be a waterhole for those of us sick of neo-liberalism, both for the wealth divisions it creates and for its immense cultural vulgarity.