97. Mel Gibson

MEL GIBSONBRAVEHEART, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, APOCALYPTO, MAN WITHOUT A FACEOften, when someone is trying to describe auteur theory, he or she will say that an auteur is someone whose movies you can recognize based on thirty seconds of film with the sound off. For the most part, this is a helpful boiling down of the idea. However, it leaves out one of the most important aspects of an auteur, theme. Mel Gibson’s very Catholic take on the hero’s journey is evident in his repeated explorations of martyrdom or, in the case of Apocalypto, extreme suffering for what is right. His detractors have rightly pointed out his anti-Semitism (which cannot be ignored) but have wrongly accused him of being nearly pornographic in his use of gore. The violence done to flesh in his films is not gratuitous, though. He’s illustrating his deeply held belief that the human body is merely meat and viscera. It is not the self. To destroy that, you’d have to get to his characters’ souls and those tend to make it through pure and intact, despite the fact that their vessels have been rent and flayed.See the full list HERE.

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83 Responses

  1. Dexter says:

    What nonsense. Gore is either gratuitous or it isn’t. You can agree or disagree that you have to suffer for extreme causes, you can be an anti-Semite,or you can be a Christian. That doesn’t mean you have to be a sadist. Mel Gibson is illustrating his deeply sadist believes on-screen.
    Does that mean you would respect a well-shot Nazi film, like say “Kolberg”. Would the director then be representing his believe that the people require strong leadership?
    Lucky nobody voted for Veit Harlan to be put on your list.

  2. Battleship Pretension says:

    I haven’t seen Kolberg but I don’t need a link to know who Veit Harlan was.
    Regardless, I can say with a completely clear conscience that Triumph of the Will and Olympia are astoundingly powerful documentaries. I also like most of Roman Polanski’s work, for that matter. I’m a big proponent of separating the art from the artist.

  3. Dexter says:

    How can you say Triumph of the Will is a documentary? It’s a propaganda piece. It’s not a documentary like Grey Gardens or Capturing the Freidmans. People call it a documentary because there’s no propaganda section in the video store.
    Roman Polanski on the other hand is a child molester and a very sad person. The feeling of hopelessness and dread comes out in his movies quite clearly. Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown both end on the protagonist accepting terrible things that they are powerless to stop.
    To separate art from the artist is absurd. They are to judged on different grounds but both require the other.

    By the way, the link wasn’t to Veit Harlan. It was to Kolberg.

  4. Battleship Pretension says:

    You make a good point so I’ll clarify my stance. I think it’s okay to judge an artist when considering their work but only on the things you can learn about them from the work itself. I always point out Gibson’s anti-Semitism because The Passion of the Christ is an anti-Semitic film. I do not point out the things he’s said about women or blacks because they are, as far as I can tell, not relevant. Likewise, I don’t (or at least I try not to) think about Polanski’s crimes when analyzing his work.

  5. Dexter says:

    I’m glad we got that clear, because the original reason I called your description of his movies absurd was your reaction to the gratuitous violence. You defended it on the basis of his believes about the flesh but you don’t defend the movie based on anti-Semitic beliefs. I think that is an inconsistency.
    You can’t call Veit Harlan movies “good” because they are honest portrayals of a man’s beliefs, if that were the case you would be agreeing with them. They are good because he has a developed aesthetic.
    You defend Mel Gibson’s aesthetic choices based on his belief that the body is meat and viscera. He has other beliefs that are indefensible. Why does that make his aesthetic choices anymore defensible?

  6. Dayne says:

    Hope you guys don’t mind me butting in on your conversation here.

    I’ve absolutely gotta agree with who I assume is David here, Dexter. All film is a presentation of a particular worldview, more so, I think than any other art form. We are literally forced to see through the director’s eyes. Your argument that something like Triumph of the Will should not be put in the documentary section but the propaganda section is merely semantic. All art is propaganda to a certain degree, even if not state-sponsored. An artist is always advocating something, even if they don’t know it. To argue that, being state-sponsored, Triumph of the Will belongs in a different category than, say, Inside Job, is absolute bullshit. Both advocate, usually in exclusion of any opposite view, a particular point: vis-a-vis, Triumph says Nazism is awesome (to hopelessly reduce it lol), and Inside Job says the current economic situation is because of bad people working together for their own benefit, often inside the government (again to hopelessly reduce it). These are both propaganda, one simply had a state budget and the state happened to be the most reviled in the modern age. That does not put it outside the realm of other art, which is always reviled at some point or another.

    I have to wonder why you’re not picking a much more interesting example, like Sergei Eisenstein, who is universally revered (and deservedly so) among film viewers. This is a man who was undeniably a propagandist, and worked during both Lenin and Stalin’s reigns in Russia, for chrissakes. Do we now have to deny his input, or say he wasn’t a true artist, because his works are jingoistic to a fault? Or can we acknowledge the complexity of the man behind the camera, which complexity does not always, though sometimes, makes it into the films themselves? Perhaps, in addition to the propaganda Battleship Potempkin undeniably was, we can talk about its stirring sympathy for the downtrodden, its intense humanism, and the patriotic fervor of a man and film that believed his motherland had all the potential to fulfill his utopian dreams, not to mention its brilliant craftmanship. Another striking example here is D.W. Griffith. Perhaps we’re being a little unfair when we spare those who are not associated with Hitler, the great devil of the 20th century.

    Now to Gibson himself. There’s no doubt there’s some sadism to his violence on screen, like there is some sadism to all violence on screen, even a movie, like Eastwood’s Unforgiven, who’s purpose is to deliver the violence to us with its depth and full consequence. What I understand David as saying is that it is not pure sadism on screen (like you’ll get in many terrible movies like Last House on the Left, or even very good movies where it is used purposefully, like Salo), but that Gibson has a reason for presenting this kind of violence on screen. It is, for him, a religious violence, which means it must be somewhat sadistic at least for it to serve its function of providing catharsis. We release our sadism on Christ, and the guilt that comes from that infects us and causes us to try to make a positive change. The point, to speak of Passion of the Christ, is never to identify with Jesus, but to identify with his tormentors, and, knowing and feeling this, to come out of the experience trying to come closer to Christ, to create and be a self that can identify with Jesus and yet still with his tormentors, like Jesus himself did. I’m trying to be like Jesus. You can see this even more clearly at work in Braveheart – we all want to be William Wallace, but we all are Robert the Bruce, as David and Tyler said in their episode on Gibson. The point is to try to be one while still being the other, attempting, as Wallace in Gibson’s reading did, to transcend our flesh and become one with God, a great spirit, according to Catholic doctrine.

    So is it sadistic? Yes, as it must be. Unforgiven’s violence is also sadistic, because, in this case, the violence serves as catharsis. We all walked into Unforgiven knowing we’d get some awesome cowboy shoot outs, Leone style. Eastwood gave us that and then purged it of us to deliver his true message – the devastation of violence, the fact that “Deserve ain’t got nothing to do with it.” The sadism is a necessary part of art, especially when walking into a genre piece, as Unforgiven and Braveheart are, or a passion play, in which tradition Passion of the Christ firmly stands.

    Sorry this is so long lol

  7. Dexter says:

    David brought up Leni Riefenstahl, talking about Nazi filmmakers other than Veit Harlan. My point was that aesthetic choices are not defensible by pinning them on someone’s belief. I’ll repeat myself: just because Mel Gibson believes that the body is only meat and viscera doesn’t mean that it suddenly becomes a worthy aesthetic choice. If you share his belief that’s a different story.

    If you think Veit Harlan was a good director you can’t defend him because of his belief in Nazism (unless of course you are a Nazi). The same thing applies with Sergei Eisenstein, you can’t defend his movies just because he believed in Communism (unless you believe in Communism). They are technically brilliant but aesthetic choices are defended from a personal point of view not a displaced one.

    What David is doing is defending gratuitous violence from a displaced point of view (unlike Dayne). I’m saying you could defend Veit Harlan that way; however, you would look extremely awkward.

  8. Dayne says:

    But aesthetic choices come out of the director’s belief, which he/she is trying to express onscreen. To talk about Eisenstein, since I honestly don’t know Harlan, you can’t tell me the aesthetic decisions he made in Ivan the Terrible Part 1 are not due to his abiding belief in the cult of the Motherland. They are effective aesthetic decisions, and so justifiable on formal grounds, but highly dangerous aesthetic decisions when approached on content grounds, as they are uncompromising, one-sided, and totally jingoistic. That’s also what makes them so breathtaking, however. I can’t help but feel like a proud Russian (with not a drop of Russian blood in my veins) at the end of Ivan 1. It’s that effective.

    I think it’s a similar thing with Gibson. His impulse in presenting violence that way is motivated by his belief, which belief, as near as I can tell, is much more complex and nuanced than Harlans, or even Eisensteins. Gibson is aware of the fetishization of violence, and is commenting on it. This treatment of violence is very common, most egregiously, I think, in Tarantino’s films. You can defend his aesthetic choices based on his beliefs if those aesthetic choices are a good (in terms of craft, regardless of morals) expression of those beliefs, even in the cases of filmmakers who were horrible people, like Harlan. Film requires the acceptance of another person’s viewpoint, literally, before all else. If you can’t accept it, regardless of whether you agree with it, you’re wasting your time when watching the film.

    • Dexter says:

      You do know that Eisenstein was only setting up high hopes in the first part before bringing things down in the second (which was banned until 1958). He did make a Stalinist propaganda film and that was Alexander Nevsky, which is about as nuanced as a Stop sign. So I am telling you that Eisenstein’s aesthetic decision were not due his abiding belief in the motherland.

      • Dayne says:

        Did you watch the same film I did? Because, while certainly not as upbeat as Ivan 1, Ivan 2 is just as much a film about the glory of Russia. Also, it’s part 2 of an expected trilogy, very much meant to mirror the development of the Russian communist state. First, the people rise up against a corrupt government. Then, the newly established government of the people must secure it’s power and rid itself of those who oppose it inside their borders. Then, empire and the defeat of Russian foes abroad. Part 2’s are almost always the darkest parts of the trilogy, before victory and glory is secured in the third part (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, etc.). Even with it’s darkness, Ivan emerges victorious and promises further victories.

        I think Eisenstein was totally caught off guard by Stalin’s ban of his film. He made Ivan 1 thinking it could become a trilogy, but made it of a piece by itself. He made Ivan 2 almost certain he’d get to make an Ivan 3. It’s important to remember that, as Ivan 2 is simply the darkness before the dawn, to use a rather hackneyed phrase. There’s no doubt he’d face difficulties in Ivan 3, but Ivan would emerge totally victorious, without any moral quandaries or discussions of the weight of the throne. Perhaps he would die tired, but satisfied. I’m almost certain that was Eisenstein’s vision.

        Further, it’s important to make a distinction between Stalinist thinking and an abiding belief in the motherland. Even if there’s a criticism of Stalin in Ivan 2, and I think you have to break the material to assert that, the core remains the same – Ivan is about the glory of Russia, his abiding belief in the motherland. You are totally groundless in your assertion that beliefs can’t and don’t lead to a valid aesthetic choice. With a talented, earnest director, there’s really no other way to have it. You can judge the aesthetic decision on its own merits, but you can’t throw out the decision because you don’t “share his beliefs.”

        Watching film is sharing a literal viewpoint. When I watch Ivan the Terrible, I am Eisenstein. When I watch Braveheart, I am Gibson. When I watch 8 1/2, I am Fellini. All of these are overlaid, obviously, by my own viewpoint, but my eyes are looking through their eyes. Before I can criticize the film, I must allow that to be the case. I can understand if you can’t bring yourself to share a director’s viewpoint (I had that very recently with Birth of a Nation, as hard as I tried to sink myself into that film), but that means you are not criticizing the film, you are criticizing the beliefs of the director making it. That’s a fair criticism, but not of the film itself. If you can’t submerge yourself into the film and its viewpoint, you have no ground on which to judge that film.

  9. Dexter says:

    You seem to have things slightly backwards here. Why do you think Stalin banned Ivan the Terrible part II? Showing what Stalin did in order to secure his power wasn’t exactly party line. There is always an implicit criticism of injustice if it just shown neutrally, not to speak of the singing executioners in the color reel of Ivan the Terrible. The films are about nothing less than the growth of paranoia in the body politic.

    I think you are totally groundless when you assert that you become the director when you watch a movie.No matter how much film school you go to you cannot become the same mind with the same beliefs and the same interests. When you watch a movie you see and hear what the director wanted you to see. Everything else you bring to the table.

  10. Dayne says:

    Yes, Ivan 2 is about the growth of paranoia in the body politic, but it’s also about the defeat of that paranoia. If anything, it’s about the necessity of it. There is an actual plot against Ivan, and he foils it. It’s more a justification than a criticism. And again, when considered in terms of a trilogy, as Eisenstein undeniably was, this is the necessary step. Before Russia can become the great empire and light of civilization, it must be purified. It’s like with Alexander Nevsky, which I just saw a few days ago, and yes, subtle as a stop sign is quite adequate a way to describe it. But at the end of the film, though it clearly condemns the Germans, it’s the traitors and the priests who are executed literally by the populace. This is the same thing, with a lot less artistry and skill – the Russian state, not the German one, must be cleansed. Therefore, it’s the cancer that eats at the society (in Nevsky the spies and priests, in Ivan the boyars), that must be excised. This is fundamentally dark, but it is a victory and a justified one, in Eisenstein’s eyes. There was a plot to take his life, had been one that took his wife’s life, and these were, to put it as simply as the film puts it “bad people”. I love Ivan 2, but Stalin clearly doesn’t understand the heroic themes Eisenstein was playing with. If we read Ivan as Stalin, it’s still a pro-Stalin film.

    I think I wasn’t quite clear in my statement. I don’t think you become the director, but you certainly take their eyes. If the director is skilled, you only see what they want you to see, which can be read as what they see. When I watch Alexander Nevsky, I only see baby-burning Germans and conniving priests fighting against the glorious Russian people. I know that it’s more complicated than that, but I think once you leave the world between those frames you’ve stepped away from an aesthetic criticism and into a moral one. I’m not saying that’s bad, merely that it’s different. When I watch Ivan, if I’m to make a strictly aesthetic judgment of it, I must ask “is it successful at what it’s trying to do?” The answer, I think, is a resounding yes. It’s not going for subtlety and certainly not for truth. Can I criticize it for not going for those things? Absolutely, but when I do so I am now basing my judgment on more than aesthetics. You might disagree with Gibson, heaven knows I do, but that’s different from the work itself. Braveheart is a movie about the awesomeness of freedom. Is it successful in that vein? I think it is. It’s also homophobic, a tad sadistic, paranoid and somewhat sexist. The first judgment is an aesthetic judgment. The last ones are moral judgments. They are all valid, but they are also different.

    • Dexter says:

      I think that was the genius of Eisenstein, the ability to make a film critical of Stalin in Stalinist terms. It is no easy task to be able to formulate a criticism of totalitarian dictator while still being able to maintain his approval. This debate about Eisenstein is incidentally one that has been going on for a while (especially in Russia) about whether he was a genius or a lackey. However,in the third part the heir to the throne was supposed to be the would-be assassin who was reprieved in the second film. So I don’t think that would have made things any better in terms of approval from Stalin.
      Concerning Gibson, I guess I won’t be able to convince you of anything about the aesthetic quality of the film because it’s ultimately what you get out of the movie as a viewer. If it gives you something that you consider good art or a good time, then this debate is really useless.

  11. Dayne says:

    Hey, now, don’t give up, this is fun.

    I’m actually not too big a fan of Gibson. While his movies can be satisfying, they tend to be simplistic and self-aggrandizing. He’s simply a talented Kevin Kostner. I haven’t seen Apocalypto though, so there’s that.

    The debate we’re having here is not whether Gibson is a great artist, or even if Eisenstein was, but the separation between beliefs and aesthetics, and where that separation should be, if there actually is one. My contention is that, while there is a separation, it is not a dividing line, per se, but a move into a different type of criticism. I think a movie should be judged on two terms – both aesthetically and morally. Aesthetically, Braveheart can be quite pleasing. Morally, it’s deeply problematic. That, to me, is the crux of the issue, and one of the main problems in criticism. There’s a tendency to want to justify the moral problems of great aestheticians. People want desperately to believe that Shakespeare wasn’t anti-Semitic, and that Shylock is his first tragic hero (disagree with the latter point, but I think there’s a lot to be said for the former). It goes the other way too. We want to disregard Eisenstein’s aesthetic genius if he’s a lackey. Honestly, I don’t care about that. I think morality is important, but confusing it with aesthetics just muddies the water. Eisenstein was a phenomenal filmmaker not because he upholds my moral values but because his films were technically brilliant. Regardless of whether Ivan is pro- or anti-Stalinist, it’s a technical masterpiece.

  12. Dexter says:

    But the debate was about the aesthetic use of violence and if you feel that it is cathartic, then you agree with Gibson to a degree. There is no way Shakespeare was to disregard the Merchant of Venice even though it is anti-semitic, unless you want to express a pedestrian understanding of drama. Even though you disagree with the message you are entertained and moved because Shakespeare made his villain human, because he used the medium of theater so well that you can take any message away from it and marvel. The same goes for the way Eisenstein used the film medium in Ivan the Terrible.
    Mel Gibson is not that caliber of artist or man to have his work considered even though his personal biases may hinder his reputation. What he basically made was Jesus the action movie. (I find it really hilarious the way they threw “Ecce Homo” into the trailer.) If you really feel that Mel Gibson has a place in the culture then I don’t have much more to say. To me the film is the definition of blasphemy. It’s entertaining sure, but that’s if you don’t believe in anything.

  13. Dexter says:

    There is now way to disregard Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice… is what I mean to say.

  14. Dayne says:

    Blasphemy? That’s…really interesting. I’m not Christian myself, but I’d love to hear your thinking behind that.

    I don’t feel that violence in art, especially in film, is necessarily cathartic. I do think, however, Gibson uses it in that way. He certainly is no Shakespeare or Eisenstein, but he is aware of his art, and trying to do something with, sometimes successfully.

    So is horrific aesthetic violence ok only when done well? I can see an argument for that, but it seems a strange one for you to be making.

    Your discussion on Shakespeare is true, as far as you estimate his talents. I don’t think Merchant of Venice was anti-semitic, however. I think Shakespeare, and the play, is smarter than that. Merchant is a film about a bunch of unlikable and boring Christian men persecuting an interesting, likable, but ultimately extreme, Jew, and only achieving over said Jew because they’re saved by a highly intelligent, though none too wise, woman. Shakespeare is destroying every social value in his time and showing a world that is inside out and totally false. The final scene is one full of compromises and half-measures. He is destroying his characters here, and showing us just how pathetic they are. Though defeated, Shylock is by far the nobler character, and nobody can leave an intact version of that play feeling otherwise. I submit that even Elizabethan audiences were stunned by the humiliation of Shylock. It’s rather impossible not to be, given the absolute nobility the character holds when on stage.

    I’m not sure if you’ve answered my contention – is there a dividing line between aesthetics and morality, and where is that dividing line? To reference your argument concerning blasphemy, one can argue a work of art is blasphemy, but the question still remains – is it aesthetically pleasing? You can have beautiful blasphemy, even if it blasphemes your particular beliefs.

  15. Dexter says:

    I don’t know what to say to you, Dayne. I don’t believe that there is such a thing as beautiful blasphemy. I admit that Mel Gibson has talent and is a competent filmmaker but that doesn’t make his works beautiful. You can appreciate him from an academic point of view, but it remains something very untrue to the message of Jesus. If you want to see a spiritual filmmaker at work, look at Tarkovsky. Gibson would be the complete opposite. He is crude and ridiculous. He has little to no sympathy for anyone or anything in his films; not exactly a believer in the message of peace and brotherhood.
    My point about cathartic violence was that if you feel a relief from the violence show on-screen, to a degree, you sympathize with it. Like the way people cheer on Dirty Harry.
    And please don’t put the case for or against Shakespeare’s anti-semitism in terms of smart. Look at Werner von Braun, he was a Nazi AND a rocket scientist.

    • Dayne says:

      Then I suppose that’s just a fundamental difference between you and I. Certainly, I am no Christian, so that changes things, but I’m willing to accept what may be termed “blasphemy” to my particular “beliefs”. I love different ways of thinking, even if I think the other is totally wrong. What matters is the dynamism and intelligence of the thought, the way the thinking cuts. That being said, it’s very easy to say that on a message board when not actually confronting that thinking lol.

      I haven’t seen Tarkovsky, though I will certainly look. Good film is good film, if you ask me.

      I think what you’re saying about cathartic violence is certainly true, and I think there’s a strong element of that in Gibson, though there’s more to it than that. I don’t think there is more than catharsis in Dirty Harry. That being said, though I stand exactly opposite in political and moral terms, I do quite enjoy Dirty Harry. And I agree, that’s because, to a certain extent I’m ok with the specific violence on screen. I’m not a violent person, but the violence in Dirty Harry does appeal to the more violent parts of myself.

      What about Batman, or other “super heroes”? How cathartic is that violence? Keep in mind I tend to think of cathartic violence as a negative, mostly because I don’t buy catharsis, at least as a totally purging effect.

      It’s definitely true that a very intelligent person can be morally deficient, or be intelligent in one way and not in another. I do think it’s fair to say that Shakespeare was too smart for the anti-semitism of his day, however. Werner von Braun is not the best example, as his specialization of intelligence does not really apply to the kind of intelligence I’m talking about – he’s a rocket scientist, not a social observer. I think a person with a keen social intellect and insight can see quite clearly the mechanisms and lies of discriminatory behavior, and discard them. Shakespeare was such a man, and it’s fair to say he out-thought most everyone in our day, let alone his. There’s more to this than just intellect (we all have intellectual weaknesses), but that is a huge factor.

  16. Dexter says:

    It’s not about violence as such, it is how it is used. In comic book movies, James Bond or Michael Bay films, the violence is there to get you interested enough in a scene to make you forget that nothing is happening plot-wise. It is consequence-less. Violence when it is used as furthering the story has more weight. Mel Gibson or Don Seigel don’t use violence meaninglessly. They use it to drive a certain moral code about right and wrong.It’s not about being a violent person it’s about excusing the acts of violence you see around you as justified. That’s what makes them blasphemous. They separate you from your fellow man.
    That was the point of my remark on Veit Harlan. Just because it’s a belief doesn’t make it all of a sudden OK.

    And one last thing about Shakespeare, next time somebody asks you for a POUND OF FLESH as collateral for renting a boat, ponder the mechanisms of discriminatory behavior and what not.

    • Dayne says:

      Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you in so long, I’m a starving college student in the middle of finals. Hopefully you’ll catch this and reply, because I’m enjoying this conversation.

      As for Shakespeare, consider it was a “merry jest” originally meant to heal the rift between Shylock and Antonio, so there’s room to think otherwise.

      I agree with what you’re saying morality wise, though I think blasphemous is the wrong word here. Perhaps immoral or amoral would be better. Blasphemy is “distortion” (depending on which side you’re on) of a particular religious doctrine. So, it might be blasphemy to you, but it’s immoral in general. That’s what I mean by beautiful blasphemy. Most interesting thought was/is blasphemy at one time or other. And even immorality can be beautiful.

      I think here’s the difference I always come back to – I don’t need to agree with a film to respect the skill and artistry that goes into it. Many amazing works of art were made by not so good people. A great example of a director who’s actions I have to simply have to ignore as much as possible when watching his films is Elia Kazan, particularly something like On the Waterfront. That’s an amazing, brilliant film, when I think of it as anything other than an Elia Kazan film. But when I think of the fact that he made it to respond to backlash over his collaboration with HUAAC, and therefore specifically saw himself as the Marlon Brando character, and made that character into something of a Christ figure, who’s collaboration redeemed the docks of their sins, it makes my blood boil to think it’s so vilely self-serving, offering justifications while his former friends are driven from the country. But it’s a beautiful, amazing work of art, and I have to acknowledge that, because my morality and my aesthetics are not the best bedfellows, and mixing them leads to censorship. That’s very important to remember. I can fundamentally disagree with a film morally, but that’s a moral judgment, not an aesthetic one.

      That doesn’t mean that Mel Gibson, Veit Harlan, or Elia Kazan are ok. It just means there’s more than just moral condemnation there, and, for that matter, for them just aesthetic appreciation too.

  17. Dexter says:

    Well I am also an underfunded college student. However, this is beside the point. I think here we touch upon the issue of morality. Immorality doesn’t bother me. Supercilious righteousness does. I can’t take The Passion of the Christ out of it’s context as part of the war fever and ideological justification for American conservatism in 2004. I can admire Syriana even though it is (to use an old-fashioned term) pro-terrorist but The Passion in my opinion is an active dismissal of what real Christian values are, so I feel perfectly comfortable calling it blasphemous.

  18. Dayne says:

    It definitely may be, though what you’ve done here is make a moral judgment. It’s a very incisive and interesting one, definitely, but it is not an aesthetic one. To go all the way back to the little blurb about Gibson up there, the point was the power of his aesthetics for exploring his viewpoint, his particular notions of the body. I can’t say whether I agree with David’s thought there, but it is quite interesting, and I do agree that Gibson’s violence is not, at least, purely pornographic. I do agree with you, concerning the conservative justification inherent in the film, there is something very pornographic about it, but there’s more to it than that.

    Part of what’s interesting about pornography is the fact that it’s nearly impossible to retain the aesthetic/moral divide here, without eliminating the need for the word in the first place, since the implicit thought behind calling something pornographic is that it is totally below any real judgment – when watching porn, one (perhaps wrongfully) does not pay attention to composition of shot, etc. James Joyce defines pornography as any work of art made to deliver a political message. I tend to agree with him, in that I think pornography is something you watch for self justification or gratification. In that thought, almost all religious art (which Passion must be) has at least traces of the pornographic to it, as the point is to inspire religious fervor, which often is a form of self justification or gratification. So maybe we should pay more attention to the way porn is made, because “good” porn (I love that I just got to say that lol) perhaps has a strange craft to it, and is made to compound the justification and gratification, and remove all awareness it is happening. Of course, this is more of a potential for porn, not a reality, though if we include religious and political art under the definition, then it is very much a reality.

    Perhaps an example would be useful. Have you ever seen the Exorcism of Emily Rose? I despise that movie, because it is pornographic, I have just realized. But it’s well made pornography, in that it’s effective. It can be a little scary at time, is fairly well written, shot, etc. But it’s a complex series of self-justifications and gratifications disguised. The movie pretends to entertain skepticism about whether Emily Rose is in fact possessed, by having a psychiatrist say she has epilepsy, actually. But the actual drama of the story centers around the fight between the possessing demon and a priest, and we are given every reason, excepting the psychiatrist, to think there is a demon. The film disguises itself as asking whether it could be a demon, when it has already decided. It never comes out and says it was a demon, but the priest wins the case (the overarching plot is a trial of the priest for negligent homicide for not taking her to the hospital instead of performing an exorcism) and all the good guys go home, excepting, of course, the unfortunate event of Emily’s death. The fact that this is pornography becomes especially apparent when one investigates the “true story” the movie is based on (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anneliese_Michel), which is far more complicated than the movie portrays. There is a great deal of room here for an actual investigation into the place of religion in the modern world, all of which is ignored in favor of sensationalism and well-disguised justification of American religious paranoia.

    A great counter example, I think, is The Exorcist, the classic film on a similar theme. Though I myself am atheist, I actually really like this film. I like it because it’s an unabashedly religious movie that still explores the thematic issues brought up in a film about a modern day demonic possession. Though the film at the end is something of a religious film, it comes to that conclusion naturally, and not with the fakery employed in Emily Rose. It’s an examination of what these things mean for the character’s involved, with the basic assumption that a demonic possession is actually happening, bolstered by the fact that all the secular authorities the mother turns to eventually throw up their hands. Though I don’t believe in God, I love religious stories that are actually art, not pornography, in that they examine religion on its own terms and talk about what it means or could mean in a person’s life. The point is not to convert, but to inspire thought. I love the martyrdom that ends The Exorcist because I don’t come out of it feeling preached to, but feeling satisfied with a good story about a religious man in a religious universe. It’s good film making all around, with the side effect that if one is religious, there’s a little bit of justification and gratification there, but a whole lot more of examination and questioning, thinking about the place of religion in one’s life, in your own life. That’s good film making.

    I haven’t seen the Passion. When it arrived in theaters I was a Christian, and felt many of the things you are expressing. I’ll have to see it to see if I disagree with you, but looking at the film of Gibson, I don’t think it’s fair to say he is always pornographic in his film making, though he has very strong tendencies towards it. But that’s tempered by the deep anxieties I feel in his films towards that very tendency. He wants to self-justify, to gratify, but he just can’t. Does that make him a great film maker? Not really. But it does make his work interesting.

    It’s good starving college students have so much time on their hands to discuss such things 😛

  19. Dexter says:

    I’m not a fan of The Exorcist and I didn’t see The Exorcism of Emily Rose. These sort of movies are made to distract people from real issues and troubles in their lives. I recently re-watched The Exorcist, I think it’s well-made but really, what was the point of it? I once saw an interpretation video on YouTube suggesting it was actually about child molestation (the shaking bed among other things) which is interesting but I think this is over thinking what the movie is and that is nonsense on the level of the X-Files. Saturday night entertainment for when you have nothing to do.
    It’s nice we got to the subject of pornography and religion but if you could define pornography I would be really impressed. I wasn’t accusing Gibson of being pornographic I was accusing him of being blood-thirsty. Unless you consider anything self-gratifying to be pornographic. Then what is First Blood or Predator? Eighties action movies didn’t exist in Joyce’s day but certainly were a part of a political attitude. (I do like the idea of calling them pornographic, though) Never mind the question of where do you draw the line at political? By the by, would you consider Hitchcock’s short films that he made for the Ministry of Information as morale boosters for the French Resistance pornographic?
    You’re being way too broad. Any way, starving college students survive on bread crumbs and intellect and time to think is their greatest resource.

  20. Dayne says:

    Well, Joyce was certainly going for a widespread condemnation, so I don’t think he would mind you calling his judgment broad in the least. As for me, I’m not necessarily saying pornography is bad, just generally useless. I like some useless things, and think an afternoon spent watching Predator is an afternoon well spent. Doesn’t mean it’s not pornographic, it just means there’s a place for pornography.

    I actually think of The Exorcism as art, because it grapples with particular issues and explores them thematically, without being didactic (and therefore self-serving). The notion that it’s about child molestation is ridiculous, a classic example of snatching at threads to force a theory on a work of art (which also takes on an added irony these days what with priests and child molestation). It very clearly states what it’s about – faith in the midst of horror. When Max von Sidow tells the other priest the point of the desecration is to make them weak, to try and convince them all this flesh is nothing, the film is very directly addressing the value and worth of the human experience. The demon seeks to convince us that we are of no value – the priest sacrifices himself to show that absolutely we are of value, that there is something beautiful in this girl that must be saved.

    I tend to like my definition of pornography, but the problem with defining it is that it’s a word that cannot be contained. It is much, more wider than any definition, because it carries so much social weight. Perhaps, to clarify, it would be best to equate what I mean when saying something is pornographic is also to say it is masturbatory. Purely for self-gratification.

    As for Gibson being bloodthirsty, I think that gets into the discussion about pornography because the charge of being bloodthirsty equates to the same thing – Gibson uses gore in a masturbatory fashion, to gratify his blood lust. I think, to a certain extent, he does, but there is more in his use of violence. I think he is fascinated by physical being, and expresses that largely through violence, particularly in a Christian vein. Also, most art is gratuitous in its expression of violence, or anything. How much is something like Titanic misery porn, or, even better since it’s a far, far, astronomically superior work, Hamlet? The trouble with self-gratification is that it tends to find its way into everything.

  21. Dexter says:

    I think at this point you’re just abusing the term. Masturbatory, bloodthirsty and pornographic are all different words. Misery porn? Sounds like Stephen King fanfiction.
    I really don’t like The Exorcist. It says completely nothing to me. Nothing about loneliness or faith. A good Christian with a capital C movie in my opinion would be Crash (the Cronenberg/Ballard one). There you have a film about the flesh, mortality, nihilism, and loneliness. It is so subtle in so many of its aspects, from the constant need of self-reference and spectacle to the clinical lack of emotion in all the characters and the ways in which they simply cannot communicate or love. They can express themselves in destruction and that I think is a truly christian message.
    Also it was called pornography in its day, and probably still is but goddamn; it is anything but self-gratifying.

  22. Dayne says:

    Why would you say it’s pornographic?

    Masturbatory, pornographic and blood thirsty are different words, yes, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t linked in some particular way, especially words like masturbatory and pornographic. I think the key difference between those two, in terms of film, is that masturbatory is the filmmaker gratifying him/herself, and pornography is providing that gratification for the audience, whose participation in it is masturbatory, which is what I was getting at when I linked them. Blood thirsty has very strong elements of both of these things, in that the filmmaker is putting the bloody content on screen to gratify him/herself, and the audience is enjoying the film because it slates their own blood lust. Haven’t you watched your Hitchcock? Sex always has a little of violence in it 😛

    To clarify, misery porn is the kind of stuff where you watch someone else’s misery on screen to effectively feel better about yourself. You feel bad, you watch a movie where you can go, “Well, at least I’m not that guy.” On a sicker level, it’s taking pleasure in the suffering of others, finding gratification in it. The line between good drama and misery porn is very hard to find, in my experience. This notion actually troubles me greatly.

    I think The Exorcist is at least a really good movie, and I think there’s a lot of depth there, for the reasons I’ve talked about above. But you don’t agree, so I’ll drop it. I actually haven’t seen Crash, though, given what I know of it, I’m puzzled with the Christian application. That’s certainly an interesting way to watch Cronenberg, however. What other movies would you say are “Christian” as you’re thinking it?

  23. Dexter says:

    You must be a believer because only a someone who believes in God is that greatly troubled about their enjoyment of others misery.

    To answer your question J.G. Ballard is (was) a very Catholic writer. He constantly wrote about his obsessions and the dark forces that move humanity. Cronenberg was the perfect director to make a film of a book by Ballard. Cronenberg once described himself as a card-carrying existentialist, so that’s a done deal.

    Graham Greene would be another example: The Third Man and Brighton Rock are very Christian movies. They are about finding redemption or sympathy for nonredeemable people. Peeping Tom is another in this series, the reason Martin Scorsese loves it so much I’m guessing. Although it is in my opinion not on the same level as the previously mentioned films.

    Those would be Catholic filmmakers, if you look at Orthodox Christians you have to start with Tarkovsky. Andrei Rublev is an obvious Christian movie, featuring a crucifixion in the Russian snow no less, but take Stalker for example: the whole movie is about a man who refuses to stop believing in the impossible and becomes a figure who endures for the sake of belief itself.

    Those are the most obvious that spring to mind.

  24. Dayne says:

    I figure your comment about my being a believer is meant to be a compliment, so I’ll try not to be too offended at it. Having a conscience has nothing to do with belief in God; I tend to find it actually has a negative relationship to it, in that someone who believes in all that a belief in God entails has many, many more justifications at hand for his/her actions than someone who doesn’t. Generally, atheists, while often insufferable, pretentious bastards, are more concerned and perplexed by moral questions than anyone else, for one simple reason: it has not already been decided. Every atheist has to build their own morality from the ground up, without relying on the word of God for any building blocks. This forces them to be deeply concerned with these questions, and so generally to be more morally involved than those who’ve already decided their moral viewpoint as part of a religion they practice. It’s not that religious people aren’t moral, it’s that religion has morality as a corollary, not the main function of religion itself. An atheist is moral to be moral, a Christian is moral to be Christian. I am not a believer, and the fallacy that an atheist is immoral or amoral is offensive.

    But that’s neither here nor there. Cronenberg being an existentialist does not make him perfect for a Christian film, though the intersection of the now very divergent philosophies is very interesting. I haven’t seen Brighton Rock but adore The Third Man. That being said, while I do think it has some Christian themes, I wouldn’t be comfortable calling it a Christian movie. It might be about sin in a certain sense, but I do not think it’s about redemption. We love Harry Lime almost in spite of ourselves, and if Holly Martin finds redemption at the end of that film (a very shaky proposition), it’s definitely not all it’s cracked up to be.

    I am, unfortunately, not very well versed in Russian filmmakers, except a little of Eisenstein and Solaris. I haven’t seen Peeping Tom, but I have seen Black Narcissus, which is a film I’d be comfortable calling a Christian film, in both the obvious (it’s about nuns) and the less obvious (the thematic concerns of soul vs. body, etc.). I think calling films Christian or not Christian is distracting from the actual film, however, and tends to put it in a box, a critical practice I despise as often as I probably practice it lol. A great work of art is above and beyond categorization – the best works are everything and nothing.

    Calling a film Christian is only useful in talking about the Christian concerns of the filmmaker, but the work itself should be better than that. I think a helpful example here is Scorsese. Mean Streets is a great movie, but it puts itself in the Christian box and so never manages to say something larger than it’s religious concerns. However, Raging Bull is a film that is so much deeper than its ostensible religious concerns, and transcends that categorization, despite (or better perhaps to say because of?) the consistent Christian imagery. A great movie is about something deeper than proselytizing, and speaks to deeper concerns. (As a side note, I also put The Third Man and Black Narcissus as transcending categories.)

    I’d be interested in hearing what you think, as a Christian and a film buff, of a small indie film, made by a Mormon director. At risk of incurring the useless debate over whether Mormons are Christian or not, I think the film Brigham City, directed by Richard Dutcher (he’s not Mormon anymore, fyi, but was at the time of filming), could be considered among the best of, let’s say, “Christian concerned” films. It takes a little bit of inside baseball as far as a couple Mormon practices that are portrayed, but the drama is fairly clear. It’s quite good, I’d be interested to see what you think.

  25. Dexter says:

    I didn’t mean to be offensive I just meant that you seem to be guilty over something that’s supposed to fictional. Meaning that you have concerns about it that don’t affect you but your conscience.

    When I speak about Christian films, I mean Christian in theme and values. That they transcend Christian dogma should be a given, but the symbolism or themes they use are characteristic of Christianity. Crash treats it the body in a very Christian way, the flesh seems to be an extremely important thing because it can be mutilated and/or enjoyed. On the end of the opposite spectrum Tarkovsky uses Christian iconography throughout his works. From Solaris:



    The Third Man by the way is about redemption for Harry not Holly. Harry is at first ambiguous than a villain, but after Holly’s foolish attempts at heroism we can’t help but feel sorry for Harry. There is his redemption.

  26. Dayne says:

    I figured you weren’t meaning any offense, but wanted to make the case against a common religious mistake that’s very infuriating. As for my conscience, yes, to a certain extent. I intend on being an artist (a filmmaker, of course lol), and thus, am deeply concerned as to the nature of my chosen vocation and love. I am troubled by the corruptive nature of presentation, and how we can be effectively dulled by portrayals of pain in art. However, I know this is not exclusive to art nor necessarily because of it. But, as I said before, it’s very hard to determine how much my love for, say, The Godfather, is because it’s profound thematic, artistic exploration, and how much is because it’s fucking awesome when Michael blows away all those gangsters at the end. So it’s more a personal question of what this implies about me, but it’s also a question of what it implies about the person watching it with me. Art always brings these things out of us, though, which is a key part of it’s value. But it still troubles me.

    I see what you mean about your terming a film Christian, and can definitely see the use for it, particularly for a religious person like you. However, I do think the danger I was getting at is that you can limit the work in that way, by forcing a film that is not one thing into looking like that thing when you watch it, distorting it’s true shape and ignoring very clear contradictions to the categorization. Just look at modern Freudian criticism if you want a clear example of that. On the other hand, looking at the Christian themes and imagery can enlarge a work, especially when they play an important and clear role within it, as within Tarkovsky. So you have to be careful.

    I think, unfortunately, you’re totally limiting The Third Man by applying the Christian framework to it. It does play with notions of redemption, but any Christian imagery is very purposefully subverted (Winkel’s icon collection). It is emphatically not a redemption story, but it is a story about sin. I don’t get any feeling of there being an absolution of such sin, as there can’t be post WWII. This is a mere five years after the discovery of the camps, and is very much concerned with the horrors of that war and regime. This is very clear when Harry and Holly meet at the Ferris Wheel, and Harry talks about how many dots he can “afford,” clearly echoing the language of the state. The Third Man is about the moral wasteland that followed WWII, a war the entire world came out of with bloody hands. In fact, it consistently destroys any notions of redemption, destroying all the hopes of the characters. The death of Harry Lime is not a crucifixion, it’s an execution of a vile, evil man. That execution is performed by a friend, and performed as a mercy killing, but the film leaves no question that Lime deserved it, and consistently drove this point home, especially by having him kill Paine just before his death. It’s true there are moral questions about Holly’s action, which of course lead to Harry’s death, but this does not mean he’s a stand-in for the Pharisees or any somesuch nonsense. It’s about the fact that nobody in that film has any right to judge Harry for his actions, as they are all equally guilty – only Anna has it correct concerning Harry when she tells Holly that Harry was (is) a real person, living, breathing, existing beyond Holly and Anna’s small universes – to judge him is to forget that fact. And even Anna is undercut because it’s clear Harry does not feel for her the way she feels for him: he has, at best, a kind of patronizing concern for her, but he throws her to the Russians as soon as they ask. We are not seeing Harry’s redemption, we are realizing the fact that we can’t know him, can’t condemn him, though we can’t approve of his actions either. The film leaves us where WWII left us – in the wasteland. How can a world bathed in blood fight over who has more blood (or more important kinds of blood) on them? Harry is human, and we love him, though he is vile, reprehensible, and evil. If there is a Christian thought in the film left unscathed (something a highly doubt, not just in this film, but in the whole of Graham Greene’s work), it is not that Harry is valuable because God loves him, it’s that Harry isn’t valuable, nobody is, and yet we can’t help but, like Holly, try and wait for that invaluable person at the end of the road, only to be left behind. We love Harry despite ourselves, and despite him, too, and that love is not a Christian love. I think you do the film an injustice, and Christianity an injustice, when you say that Harry Lime is redemptive, dare I say, a Christ figure in it. This is a film where Christ in gone, where the cross has been turned upside down, and we have no moral compass to act on, and therefore, no comfort to find. At the end, we must simply throw our cigarette away in defeat and go home.

  27. Dexter says:

    Well, let’s get some things clear.First of all: I’m not religious, I’m a communist. The difference is minimal but nevertheless requires a distinction. Secondly: I read modern-day Freudian theory and find it extremely illuminating as to the nature of film. I read a lot of Zizek and think he’s got a lot of interesting points to make. I don’t agree with him on everything but I do think that the Freudian perspective is extremely incisive.

    The Third Man I think redeems Harry at the end. We can’t help loving him. He is not crucified (I never said this). I didn’t say he is a redemptive character, either. He is nonetheless redeemed because he is a presence that we can’t be repulsed by. We may judge him but you would be hard-pressed to find somebody who prefers Holly at the end of the day. Is this not redemption? You said yourself “We love Harry Lime almost in spite of ourselves”.

  28. Dayne says:

    I’m sorry for the mistaken identity. I was led to believe, per your earlier comments on blasphemy, that you were religious. And the difference is minimal, but it’s just like atheists and communists to go on and on about it 😛

    I also like modern day Freudian theory. Hell, I love Freud-day Freudian theory. I think, like Christianity, or Communism even, it can be used very interestingly to give a powerful and unique perspective on a work of art, particularly when the artist references those things directly. However, and I referenced Freudian criticism because it is the most pervasive example of this, the trouble comes when the critic tries to force his specialty of criticism on the work of art, which is what I think is happening with your reading of The Third Man. Trying to force a criticism is didactic, mostly worthless, and distorts the work of art at hand. I don’t think your reading of The Third Man quite goes that far, but it’s a tendency in criticism, particularly modern internet “criticism.” A great work of art always surpasses its critics, especially those that like it.

    As for The Third Man, liking the character does not mean redemption. I think it very clearly humanizes him at the end – we know in that last moment between him and Holly he cares deeply about Holly, though never to the extent that Holly cared about him. Saying we prefer Harry to Holly is a false comparison – the film never explicitly tells us to choose between them. Actually, it does just the opposite. It throws us in the middle of a torrent of differing (to put it nicely) viewpoints, of which Holly’s and Harry’s are only two. The Third Man is very much about this storm of perspectives, and the violence, confusion, and destruction that results from that. It never picks a viewpoint to espouse, not even Calloway’s British one. It consistently disenfranchises Holly, but it also consistently judges Harry. It’s made very clear to us that he’s a bad man, and that is never overturned in the film. He is humanized, but never redeemed. We do love Harry Lime, but the important thing is it’s in spite of ourselves. This is not redemption. A redeemed character is a character who has made a change, who has transcended his/herself and circumstances to become something better than them and leave behind previous mistakes. Harry never changes. Besides, since when did audience approval count as redemption? The audience always likes the bad guy, but they are rarely redeemed, and certainly not through the audience.

  29. Dexter says:

    But then you’re saying Harry is a villain. He’s not; the film doesn’t have villains. It is Holly that tries to make Central Europe the Wild West who ends up making a mess of things.

  30. Dayne says:

    I’m not at all saying Harry is the villain. I said he was “bad guy” which can be interpreted many different ways. I very explicitly said The Third Man is a movie with no villains – just differing viewpoints. Holly doesn’t make a mess of things at all – he walks into a mess and ends up, quite by accident of course, being the key to solving the mess. The mess is the left overs from WWII, aggravated by Harry’s criminal activities. Holly certainly blunders around Vienna but none of the negative consequences of the events of the film, excepting the deaths of Harry and the porter (the latter indirectly and accidentally), are because of Holly. Anna will be picked up by the Russians because of the actions of Calloway. Paine is killed because of Harry’s actions. Things were not calm in Vienna when Holly had arrived – they were a mess, but nobody knew just how much so. Though Holly does run around like it’s the wild west, the proverbial bull in a china shop, it actually ends up working. He bumbles around, playing detective, but gets the information he needs and finally plays a part in the killing of Harry. All of this is quite accidental, of course, but totally necessary. He certainly isn’t coming into a good place and making a mess of things. I’m wondering if you remember the scenes wherein we are told, in detail, the horror of Harry’s racket, or the numbers of his direct murders, plus the ones he’s thinking about committing? This is not a place where things were going ok before Holly.

  31. Dexter says:

    The prologue to the movie explains most of what you said. There were troubles but “Vienna doesn’t look a lot worse than other European cites, bombed about a bit.” It’s Holly that introduces morality and a cowboy attitude that messes up the normal running of the rackets and black market. Everyone in Vienna had to make compromises but things were ‘normal’.
    In Holly’s perspective, the “bad guy” Harry dies, the racket is disclosed and on and on. However, what happens to Anna? She loses everything, not just her citizenship but Harry, too. Holly can’t compete with that no matter how much justice he has done.

  32. Dayne says:

    Anna ends up really bad, but you can’t blame that on Holly. Calloway searched her apartment, finds the bad papers, and puts the Russians on her trail. Which tip off was received from Harry. Holly has a chance to save her, but screws it up. That chance was made possible by him, too, though.

    Holly’s arrival isn’t what screwed things up, his morality didn’t make a mess of things. The point of his morality is not that it’s destruction, but simply ineffective. That’s what Holly is admitting when he tries for one last romantic ending, and tosses the cigarette – his morals are useless in an immoral world. But so is Harry’s immorality – neither saves the possessor. Even Calloway’s morals are deeply compromised, functionally useless. He gets what he wants, but at what cost? In the end, he can just watch life go by, passively involved when he has to be. Things are already screwed up beyond belief, before WWII, before Vienna. This is just a small bubble that serves as a tidy example.

    • Dexter says:

      But the image of Harry dies. That’s what I’m getting at. Harry was already considered dead at the film’s opening; it’s when we see him die again that everything is changed. Holly’s morality killed Harry’s image not just Harry himself. We all know that things are bad in Vienna: the destruction of the city, black market, the rackets, the division of the city, suspecting neighbors, etc. Harry provided an escape from that, not just for Anna but for Holly. It is Holly who wanted to go after the ‘real murderer’ and found that it was Harry himself that ruined the idea that there is an escape from this awful place.
      That’s why Harry is redeemed. What he stood for is why we like him. He provided some hope and optimism for a post-War world. It’s not just about objective circumstances. This is a Christian movie like I said. This means it’s about what everybody believes as well.

  33. Dayne says:

    Yes, but it’s a patently false belief. As you pointed out, Harry destroys that image himself, even if Holly is the one who revealed the destroyed image. I just don’t see how that leads to a redemption for Harry. It does make him likable – we want to buy into his justifications, that’s why Welles’ lines concerning the cuckoo clock are so famous. But the film, and Welles, for that matter, prevent us from buying into that justification, in the scene wherein Holly sees the children. Like Holly, we vacillate about Harry, until that scene. Harry must die, because that image must die. What has just happened is emphatically not ok, and cannot, must not, be justified. In that way, Holly is a hero, because, despite his foolishness, he makes this final realization, and brings about the death of that image.

    I don’t see how this is a Christian movie, as you keep stating. It definitely deals with beliefs, but more directly with moral justification. This is a movie perhaps about the mechanism religion, as one of many, many other things, can use to justify human depravity, but religion is certainly not alone in that category, nor singled out. The State is much more directly a part of that theme. If anything, religion is presented as dead, adorning the walls of a doctor who uses his medical skills to kill and deform children. It has become functionally useless, a very strong theme in post WWI and WWII art. The Third Man’s concerns with religion are passing concerns, as signposts to much bigger things.

    I think you’re reading of what Harry means in the film is very compelling, but I don’t see the Christian connection.

  34. Dexter says:

    Which bigger things are these? Where do these sign posts lead us? I’m dying to know.

  35. Dayne says:

    Your sarcasm is so subtle. A sense of irony almost as sharp as Tarantino’s 😛

    I’ve mentioned what these “signposts” lead us before, but I’ll restate it in a more concrete and concise fashion here. Like you said, Harry represents this kind of escape, something the zither music points our perfectly – the jaunty music of Harry that is finally silenced when Holly fires that last shot. He’s the American abroad who’s only real complaint is a consistent indigestion. But it turns out he’s not that at all. He’s simply a facsimile, an illusion. Religion can be part of that illusion, though it is certainly not the whole. The Third Man is about belief, but it’s less about the specifics of Christian beliefs, and more about the mechanism justification plays in our lives and thinking, and the shattering blow dealt to justification by events like the Holocaust and Hiroshima (the Holocaust is particularly evoked when the medical crimes are brought up, considering the medical tortures inflicted on people during it). The ultimate sobering point about The Third Man, though, is that even after our justification has been ripped from us and we must face what we are fully naked, we don’t want to act on it. It’s not about morality, it’s about human nature, and particularly about the human need to think we’re better than we actually are. This is expressed perfectly by the ending, when Holly literally “can’t just leave” and clings to some notion that he and Anna can actually find solace after these events, and I mean real solace, not the kind Holly already partakes with his frequent boozing. Harry is not a redemptive figure, he is the most hated and most loved parts of ourselves – he’s our self-destruction. It is precisely because neither Holly nor Anna can let go of Harry that all three of them end so badly. It’s not Holly’s morality that kills Harry, it’s Holly’s love, even if that love is for an illusion. When disillusioned, Holly must kill Harry, to preserve a tiny shred of that illusion (which I’m not pretending is a good thing, but is absolutely true to Holly), but also out of love for what Harry once (as Holly sees it) was. That’s why it’s a mercy kill – they reach that accord at the end, the quintessential self-destructive impulses of both characters coinciding in a mutual suicide, Harry physically, Holly spiritually. This is a film, post WWII, about the complete moral upset taking place at the time, which is still taking place today. Only after WWII do we vacillate about a child killer, do we not really like the “righteous” man who puts him down, do we attempt to justify horrific destruction of life in absurd historical terms like comparing the Renaissance to the cuckoo clock. Though the speech is historically inaccurate, it resonates as very true to us, because of the complicated nature of our relationship with violence. It literally sees those people on the fairground floor as insects and forces us to recognize that, in fact, we do too. It makes beauty out of the devastating destruction of Vienna in that period, excitement out of a disgusting black market practice, and implicates every one who happens to have been near the camera during filming. There is absolutely no redemption here, only a kind of nihilistic giving up in the face of our own evil.

    Well, I lied about the succinct part, and probably the concrete part. I find this film to be so profound it is difficult for me to contain my thoughts on it. I still feel like I haven’t touched it’s depths. Hopefully you can make some sense of that block of text up there.

  36. Dexter says:

    I’m confused then. If you think the film ends up in a place without god and into a nihilistic universe without redemption, where is the something greater that it’s pointing to? Isn’t the nihilist world precisely different from the Judeo-Christian that it is meaningless and empty?

  37. Dayne says:

    I think you’re question points to a key differences in our world views, as I’ve been able to understand them, and therefore the way we look at movies. When you speak of something greater, you speak of a greater ideal, some higher cause the film espouses. When I speak of something greater I’m talking about a greater truth, something the film reveals. Both of our viewpoints can be very useful.

    But I don’t think The Third Man is a film about ideals, and I don’t think one does it any service by looking at it idealistically. It itself, as all the people involved in its making, is totally confused about which ideal to go with. It flits from one espousal to another, as does the audience when watching it. We want the movie to tell us what to believe, but it can’t, because it doesn’t know what it believes. What The Third Man is about is the reaction of people to that revealed truth – the essential horror of existence. Every character carries a different reaction to it, to what the war has revealed about ourselves, our inherent violence, and destructive natures. We are those characters, especially Harry, and his death is no catharsis. It is simply an end that we know is not an end. Nothing is solved, just one black market racketeer is dead.

    This is not to say that what I’m guessing is your general mode of viewing movies is bad or useless. I just don’t think it serves well here. In other places, it’s exceedingly useful. For instance, I think one has to watch a Mel Gibson movie in an idealistic mode, though that doesn’t mean he’s successful at that particular mode. You mentioned numerous films, as have I, that either should be watched in this fashion, or blur the lines between our different ways and other ways. But I don’t think The Third Man lends itself well to any idealistic interpretation. Though the world it describes is nihilistic, it itself is greater than the nihilists, because it’s about the nature of human existence, particularly in a world that appears to be, for all intents and purposes, nihilistic. It transcends a simple statement about existence to talk about meaning and deeper things. That’s why it’s a great work of art. The best art can’t be pinned down to any particular ideal – it goes deeper than that.

  38. Dayne says:

    I should add that the best art can’t be pinned down to any particular revealed truth – it, again, is deeper than that.

  39. Dexter says:

    See I think that the best art has a vulgar core but knows how to present it in a deep manner. The grim joke at the heart of The Third Man is that Harry, the black-marketeer/ child-murderer is the only one who has managed to transcend the awful post-war world that you so elegantly wax on about. When he dies, he is the one we remember as interesting or even heroic, not Holly or Calloway. That’s what makes The Third Man good art – that it reveals horrible things elegantly.

  40. Dayne says:

    Your disdain is increasingly well hidden…

    But I would argue he doesn’t transcend that world. He’s killed by it, quite clearly. (unless Kurtz switched with him right at the last moment!) Yes, he’s the most interesting part, like all deceptions are. But he’s still killed by the post WWII world.

    I do agree with your statement that it reveals horrible things elegantly, though I’m not quite sure I agree with the use of the word vulgar. But perhaps I’m putting a value judgment there lol

  41. Dexter says:

    You’re right, you are putting a value judgement on the word vulgar. What I mean by it is that is something obscene or unpleasant however this does not necessarily mean that it is wrong.

    I think that Harry the deception is a hero because he disguises the horrific realities of the post-war era. He is undone by the post-WWII American, the one who fancies himself the Lone Rider of Santa Fe. So I do in a way agree with you here but I still argue he transcends the world (or did at least) because as a character dies twice. Even still we remember him at the end for his cuckoo clock speech, his complete ambivalence and, dare I say, romantic vision of his unseemly trade.

    We are forced to watch Holly struggle to find a suitable reaction to Harry and his work. Isn’t this the most Christian of all themes: how does piety turn into betrayal? Not to mention Anna and her turbulent relationship with Harry. Another age old Christian problem: can even the most wicked find redemption through someone else’s love for them? The film is chock full of these sorts of philosophical nuggets.

  42. Dayne says:

    It is, but these are not explicitly Christian concepts or questions. The question of redemption existed long before Christ, and long before Israel. The question of betrayal (while given definite edge by Judas Iscariot) is similarly old. I think the film makes these Christian allusions, but is far from a Christian film, especially as it is so destructive towards them. If Harry is a Christ figure (represented by resurrection, Holly as Judas and perhaps Anna as a Mary Magdalene, though Last Temptation of Christ was three years from publication so I kinda doubt the last), his redemption is destructive, placing the blame for the atrocities of WWII on religion in general, and Christianity specifically, by association, or at least saying they were no help against those atrocities. Like I said, I think the film definitely is talking about Christianity, but in a glancing way, as part of the whole of Western culture, as represented by the destruction of one of its greatest cities, Vienna. It’s full of philosophical nuggets that use Christianity as a jumping off point, but it’s also full of similar nuggets that use many other aspects of Western culture as a jumping off point, and more directly involves other concerns, especially concerns about the nature of the state and authority.

    Vulgar is clarified, though I’m not sure if I agree with the use of the word, though that hardly matters. Given that this – “What I mean by it is that is something obscene or unpleasant however this does not necessarily mean that it is wrong,” is your definition of what lies at the core of the best kind of art, how do you defend your position that blasphemy cannot be a good or beautiful thing, since it can easily be the vulgarity that lies at the core of a great work?

    • Dexter says:

      Don’t take it so literally – Harry is not a Christ figure. All I said was that he was redeemed.

      My definition of blasphemy is I guess more traditional than yours. What I mean by it is something that is a perversion of a beautiful concept. If you want to be more technical than sure… blasphemy can be beautiful and the greatest works of art show you something that is shocking and uncommon, making you question all your assumptions blah blah blah…

      To take a ridiculous example, to certain Christian fundamentalists Harry Potter is an abomination before God because it depicts children practicing witchcraft instead of learning to be in the light of Jesus. However absurd this may be they understand what blasphemy means… it is something that strays from a certain view of the world that is considered absolute.

      To be a little more serious, The Da Vinci Code is truly a blasphemy against both art and religion. The idea that Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa holds the clues to the descendents of Jesus is something that should not enter into people’s heads. It really is something that in my opinion should be done away with. Meaning there is absolutely no merit in it whatsoever.

  43. Dayne says:

    I was only being literal as regards Harry, because there was room for the possible interpretation that he was a Christ figure. I also don’t buy him as a redemptive figure. Humanized, yes, but not redeemed.

    I agree there is no merit in it, but that’s not what blasphemy is. Even by your definition, there’s great merit in a perverse reading of something beauty – it shows us the perversion inherent in that beautiful thing. That’s incredibly valuable, and gets very much to the vulgar you were talking about before.

    DaVinci code is awful, but not blasphemous. It’s just a bad example of art and religion, an attempt to be art without being artistic, and an attempt to be religion without being religious. There’s no merit in the thought, absolutely, but there is and always has been merit in blasphemy. Blasphemy is how our thinking evolves. All great thought was once, and often still is, blasphemy. To blaspheme is to offer another truth, to show the vulgar as you pointed out.

    • Dexter says:

      But you asked me what I meant by blasphemy, I said something without merit whatsoever. And gave you an example with which you seem to agree – however you do not think is blasphemous. Blasphemy in the old sense meant something against dogma, and this was used to silence Galileo among others. However I think that this should not disqualify the word. What you seem to show by your aversion to it is a fear of censorship.
      To get back to The Passion of the Christ. This would be blasphemous to a true christian because it very obviously commercializes the most sacred part of their religion. The Passion of the Christ is something that would have benefited from being censored because its brutality contradicts the central message of Christianity.

  44. Dayne says:

    I don’t think it disqualifies the word, I think it gives it power. I also don’t think you’re using it correctly. I hate to pull that card, because goddamn I hate it when ppl do that to me, but I think you need a new word here. You’re trying to appropriate the power and action of the word without carrying its history, and you just can’t free it from that, it’s too late. Blasphemy has never been about having no merit, it’s about having negative merit.

    And I do find censorship unconscionable. I tend to have a Darwinian perspective on thinking – if it’s a good thought, it will survive. If not, it won’t. Censorship defeats the natural processes that destroy worthless thinking. Even worse, it empowers that worthless thinking, by treating it as powerful. You might try it, but no censorship is or can long be benevolent. You might have someone’s best interests in mind when you won’t allow them to watch a movie, but there will inevitably be push back to that, which will make the banned material powerful, and drive you to an extreme. Better to just let whoever wants to see Passion and decide for themselves, rather then try and deny it them. Your blasphemy, which I’ll just call worthlessness, shows its colors quite quickly, and will die of its own accord. The only time I disagree with my thinking there is when lives are on the line, and I have yet to hear of a Passion-related death.

  45. Dexter says:

    See I don’t share your Darwinian view of thought – I believe in traditions. There is something called the western tradition, in literature it stretches from Homer to Joyce and in philosophy it stretches from Socrates to Wittgenstein. There are eternal things that are recreated in every epoch and you need censorship in order to maintain them, otherwise they get lost in the mix.

    Besides the exception to your rule is very dubious. Would you not censor Nazi or Communist propaganda? What about the delinquents inspired by A Clockwork Orange or Natural Born Killers? What about the Fight Clubs started all around the world in the wake of the movie?

    Do you really think that art is not dangerous?

  46. Dayne says:

    I think that art is very dangerous, but I think censoring it is even more dangerous. That’s what I was getting at when I said you simply make the dangerous thing more powerful by attempting to censor it. Thought, especially bolstered by artistic craft, is incredibly powerful, and there’s nothing you nor I can do about it. Further, I think it’s wrong to try to do anything about it. I will fight against things like Nazism as best I can, but I never can stamp out the thought, nor should I. A great thinker thinks a great many thoughts, many of which are dangerous. We have to allow ourselves freedom of thought, or else all we can turn to is ignorance, wherein there is no help, no salvation. I’m not saying education is salvation, but it’s better than ignorance. We live in a world of half-measures, incomplete victories. We take what we can get.

    There is also a key difference between thought and action, though they are certainly close bedfellows. We can, and must, censor dangerous actions, but censoring dangerous thoughts only makes them more powerful than they were before. A great deal of the power of the Neo-Nazi movement across the U.S. is due to the fact of that thinking being taboo, carrying a certain romantic dangerousness. It’s disgusting and despicable, but these are people desperate to give the finger to society and establish their own specialness at the same time, and there’s few better ways of doing that than to tattoo a swastika to your chest.

    I’m confused by the entirety of your first paragraph, especially the last sentence. Could you expound?

  47. Dexter says:

    There is something called the European Legacy. Today right-wingers try to use it to kick out immigrants but that’s not what it is. It is the legacy of the Enlightenment.

    When you said “I tend to have a Darwinian perspective on thinking – if it’s a good thought, it will survive. If not, it won’t. ” You are being extremely wrong-headed. There is something very real that is dying despite itself and that is the deep ideas firmly rooted in open free thinking.

    What’s called fundamentalist Christianity is opposed to free thinking because it believes in subjugating itself to a belief in a God that is the answer to all questions. Therefore no questions need be asked anymore. The Passion of the Christ is a film built specifically for this market. I am for banning it and am not ashamed to say so.

    To say that censoring dangerous thoughts only makes them more powerful is not enough. This 1) shows a lack of belief in your own ideals and 2) takes away from the idea that there should be dangerous thoughts in general. If certain things were not prohibited there would be no danger (or point) in making art at all.

  48. Dayne says:

    “If certain things were not prohibited there would be no danger (or point) in making art at all.”

    Explain, please. I have some replies to what you’ve posted already, but this seems key to your argument, and I’d like to see some evidence for it, the argument for this part of your argument lol.

  49. Dexter says:

    Ok… my argument is this: if something is published clandestinely and not allowed to be circulated it will receive a more attentive readership or viewership simply because it is something prohibited. You might think I’m echoing your indignant point about Neo-Nazis but there is a difference here, one of actual content.

    Take for example, The Velvet Underground’s first album. Not a success if you count sales but the influence it had was tremendous. It was breaking rules that rock music had held to and therefore received intense scrutiny from those who cared about rock and roll.
    If people did not hold a certain expectation of rock music, like the niceness of The Beatles, The Velvet Underground’s influence would have been minimal.

    There has to be a prohibition in order to create a phenomenon. Both are necessary. You can’t have a subversive message and expect it to be received by an open-minded society. To an open-minded society, nothing is subversive. The only real threat is blind terrorism. Actual discussion gets washed away in a wave of tolerance.

  50. Dayne says:

    It’s amazing you can (so subtly!) insult me on the quality of my thinking and not detect the blind logical leap it takes to start with good art is groundbreaking, and then end with, so we should censor art so good art has something to break. That’s absolute wash. Art will always have expectations to crash up against because expectations are changing, faddish things. Before the Velvet Underground, they were expected. Now they are.

    Your example of the Velvet Underground doesn’t support your case at all. Where was the censorship when they released their first album? They were bucking expectations, but not censorship. Many artists have produced phenomenal work under censorship, but that hardly makes it a good, or, as you claim, necessary thing. Prohibition’s are created socially, with or without law making or censorship, so why include either? There’s enough for artists to fight against without the fucking secret police.

    It’s one thing for there to be what might be termed “soft” prohibitions, as in rock music should always have a guitar. These are better termed conventions, and absolutely should be challenged and broken at every step. Then there’s “hard” prohibitions, as in you can’t ever talk about sex. This is censorship, and, by it’s very definition, involves governments or some other authority figure imposing restrictions on art, with potentially serious punishment to result from bucking those restrictions. This is no good thing, even if good art has come from censored nations.

    Society will always have conventions, always have sacred cows to be killed. There’s no need for censorship to be there also. I hope you find some “actual content” in this thought. Btw, excepting this comment, I’ve been nothing if not polite to you, so I’d love it if you could keep out the snide remarks and insulting tone, please.

  51. Dexter says:

    I didn’t mean to insult you when I said that actual discussion gets washed away in a wave of tolerance. In a liberal-capitalist society this is what happens to real issues. Ironically we were actually having a discussion and the you asked me to be … polite.

    I gave the example of the Velvet Underground but that’s just a soft example. The Hays Code was not a legal apparatus either, though. However without it how many filmmakers would not have made their films more inventive, suggestive, or sensual? How could film-noir exist if the main hero could just sleep with the fatal woman and then leave it at that?

    This is why I like to consider myself a Communist. Osip Mandelstam said this about Soviet Russia: “Only in Russia is poetry respected, it gets people killed. Is there anywhere else where poetry is so common a motive for murder?” In a society where the authorities up to and including Stalin read and took seriously dissident literature is a society much closer to integrating art and the public than what we have now.

    If I come off as snide it’s because I have nothing but disgust for Hollywood blockbusters. Especially one about Jesus.

    • Dexter says:

      Osip Mandelstam was by the way killed in one of Stalin’s purges. I’m not saying the Soviet Union was perfect but people listened and read in way that is just not possible when you have a celebrity culture.

  52. Dexter says:

    To get back to the issue at hand. An artist must constantly be struggling against something in order for their art to work. Van Gogh by the way was rebelling against the pervading Parisian fashions of the art gallery. His paintings were famously never bought in his lifetime. Conflict is the condition of the artist. If you make life easier for the artist you will be doing art a disservice.

  53. Dayne says:

    I’m not at all offended by your statement that actual discussion gets washed away in a wave of tolerance. In fact, if you read carefully, you see I agree with it, though, obviously, with reservations.

    What I was referencing when I spoke of insulting things was this:

    “Which bigger things are these? Where do these sign posts lead us? I’m dying to know.”

    “…only one who has managed to transcend the awful post-war world that you so elegantly wax on about.”

    “You might think I’m echoing your indignant point about Neo-Nazis but there is a difference here, one of actual content.”

    I don’t care if you say something I disagree with – that’s the point of this here discussion. In fact, I prefer you to say something I disagree with because a bunch of people sitting around agreeing about things is boring and useless. However, we can still have this discussion on a basic level of respect and understanding and yet disagree vehemently. I’ve tried softly asking for this the first two times your disdain entered the text, because it happens, I’m certainly not innocent of it, and I love a little cheekiness, though built on a basis of friendship and goodwill. But this third instance was particularly low, and devoid of any useless comment to correct whatever wrong thinking I might have – it was simply an insult. I would love to continue this discussion, but I would also like it to be polite, yes, even that bad word. Whatever you might think of me (based on these lines, I cannot think it’s a very high opinion, but I honestly don’t care that much), this does not come out of some bourgeois conception of polite society. It’s about the simple respect we should show one another as human beings, especially when talking about movies of all things.

    Slightly indignant rant finished. I would love now to get back to the topic at hand, this small complaint having been submitted.

    Your argument concerning the Hays Code is built upon a false dichotomy, an illusion of “If not…” The fact is, we have no idea if not. I agree, much brilliance has come from working around the Hays Code, but it’s a fallacy to assume that without the Code, no brilliance would’ve occurred. Not the same brilliance would’ve, certainly, but for all we know the greatest work of art ever could’ve been made but for the Hays Code. Art in opposition is fascinating, and certainly has produced much of the world’s great art. But that doesn’t make it a necessary corollary, and much of the world’s great art has been made in great comfort, away from censorship and conflict.

    Your comment about Van Gogh is specious. He did have something to fight against, but it wasn’t censorship. It was fashion. That’s my earlier point about conventions. They are always there, and they provide more than enough for the artist to fight against, especially when coupled, as in the case of Van Gogh, with his own self-destruction. Conflict does produce great artists, but that does not mean we should allow horrific things to continue. That stance is totally absurd and callous. I can’t find a kinder way to put my thoughts on that.

    Your thoughts about Russia are very interesting, and will stimulate further thought I’m sure. For now, though, I’ve still got to fundamentally disagree with you. Art is always dangerous. Osip Mandelstam is looking at the rest of the world and assuming his situation is more immediate and dangerous than theirs is. As you mentioned, he was killed for his art, but that happens in societies without censorship all the time, too. Art is always dangerous because, as you yourself pointed out, it implicitly criticizes the culture from which it sprang, even if it attempts to justify said culture.

    Saying good art is impossible in a celebrity culture is absolutely wrong. The underground poetry culture of Russia Mandelstam wrote in was a celebrity culture – he was one of its celebrities. Any such worship does dull critical faculties, but there’s always plenty of stimulants for that. Sometimes celebrity just whets the appetite for criticism, particularly when an artist “fails” the culture built up around him or her. People decide how intensely they read and what it means to them – there were many people in Stalinist Russia who got nothing out of Mandelstam. In addition, the culture you describe as good for artists, the larger political conflicts that shape them, have just as often been negative for artists, given the political pressure to adhere to some stance or position, and putting that above art in every respect. James Joyce was reacting against that very thing when he left Ireland to live in Paris, and even more so when he said that all political art is pornography. He was talking about the cancerous effect art has on politics. Many artists best works are non-political, but instead deeply personal. Hamlet is not about politics, it’s about the abyss of the human soul.

    Another example of an incredible artist taking the exact opposite stance from you, while living through what you have described, is Richard Wright, in his autobiography Black Boy. He describes extensively how the Communist party he was involved with did everything they could to force the art out of him and put him in a box to be propaganda for them. This is typical of high pressure political cultures all across the board.

    Conflict is not the condition of the artist. An artist is an artist, and that’s about the only similarity they share as a group. Many of our most celebrated artists lived quite comfortable lives, and even toed the line in their time. Shakespeare died quite wealthy, and wasn’t born poor either. Da Vinci had a grand old time receiving commissions across Europe, and died comfortably in the chateau of a French nobleman. Many great artists lived quite comfortably and did not die pennyless. What you’re advancing here is a more sophisticated version of the simple idea that artists must only be miserable, to make such sad art. This is hardly the case.

  54. Dexter says:

    I’m sorry Dayne about my earlier comments. I was trying to provoke you and clearly it worked. I was trying to get you angry, not insulted. I really didn’t mean to offend – honestly. I sincerely apologize. It’s hard to get this across only in text but please take my word for it.

    Let’s get things clear:

    1) You believe that there should be no censorship of art. I clearly do. I don’t agree with every act of censorship, I strongly believe in the principle. A nice way of putting it would be what Flannery O’Connor once said, “Many a best-seller could have been prevented by a good teacher.”

    2) Can you tell me what you consider your favorite movies just to get the discussion going.

    3) Do you really think that The Passion of the Christ is not a piece of shit? To my mind it is clearly fundamentalist propaganda and should be stopped dead in its tracks.

    4) I am not against propaganda in principle either.

  55. Dayne says:

    Apology accepted. I hate to point things like that out, I just don’t care for being disrespected. Now I’d prefer to just forget about it, cause it’s really not that important. I appreciate your sincerity. 🙂

    See, I think I just disagree with your word use. Censorship doesn’t seem to be what you’re going for as much as active disapproval of bad art. I agree with Flannery O’Connor – but that doesn’t mean we should smash the press that puts the best sellers in type. We should just try to get, and be, good English teachers. I think the more someone learns, generally, the more they leave refuse like that behind. Censorship is unnecessary, and of-times actively dangerous. Art is about ideas, and every idea should be given it’s space in art, even if it’s an awful idea. Many great works of art have come out of an artist seeing a piece that is lacking and saying, “I could do better.” Hence, we get most of Shakespeare, and works like Kazantzakis’ Last Temptation of Christ, meant to elucidate what’s worthy about this idea, what’s interesting and powerful. Before Shakespeare could write Hamlet, he needed to hear the original story, then, much later, extract what was valuable about that story from the crap and create one of the greatest plays ever written.

    It’s hard for me to list my favorite movies. Mostly what I tell people is, assuming the movie’s good, my favorite movie is whatever movie I’m watching at the moment. A great film does that to me. I mostly look at directors. I love Kurosawa, Scorsese, Kubrick, Bertolucci, Pasolini, Eisenstein, Bergman, Hitchcock, Renoir, Leone, Eastwood, Allen, Welles, Polanski, Lumet, Fellini, Spike Lee, Coppola, the Coen Brothers, Mann, Ford, Capra and Spielberg, to name who I can think of right now. There’s pretty significant holes in my viewing of all these directors, as well as in my film viewing in general, but I’m working on that lol.

    Why aren’t you against propaganda? I’m more troubled by that than I am censorship, to be honest, especially in the light of someone like Goebbels.

    I haven’t seen Passion yet, and I’m quite willing to concede it could be a piece of shit, and fundamentalist propaganda. Part of what makes it interesting, however, is that I think Gibson totally believes in it, so it’s useful as an index of that kind of thinking. It’s not valuable thinking, but ways of thinking are always worth looking into. I just don’t think you can totally write it or him off.

    I just saw Ben-Hur in the theater, which I highly recommend. I’m interested to hear what you think about that film, given it’s similarity in setting and worldview to Passion. It’s especially interesting as Wyler was Jewish, and had family in Germany during the Holocaust, something the film is very conscious of. What do you think of that film?

  56. Dexter says:

    I tried to watch Ben-Hur twice now and I just cannot bear to sit through this gay fairy tale. Man, oh man. Ironic for our conversation about censorship. I don’t want you to think I’m just being condescending so I quote from The Celluloid Closet (1995):

    Gore Vidal: Well you got very good at projecting subtext without saying a word about what you were doing. The best example I lived through was writing Ben-Hur. Ben-Hur and Masala (one Jewish, one Roman) had known each other in their youth. They disagree over politics and now they hate each other for the next three hours. Well that isn’t much to put a whole three hour movie on, even if it’s something as gorgeously junkie as Ben-Hur.

    The director of the movie, William Wyler, said “What do you do?” and I said “Let me try something. Let’s say that these two guys when they were 15,16 (when they last saw each other) had been lovers. Now they’re meeting again and the Roman wants to start it up.” So Willy stared at me, face grey.

    So I said, “I’ll never use the word.There’ll be nothing overt. But it will be perfectly clear Masala is in love with Ben-Hur.” Willy said, “Gore this is Ben-Hur. A tale of the Christ is the subtitle, I think.” And Willy finally said, “Well, this is certainly better than what we got. Let’s try it out.”

    He said, “Have you talked to anyone about this?” I said, “No.” He said,”You talk to Boyd(Masala). Don’t say anything to Heston, because he’ll fall apart I’ll take care of him.” So Heston thinks he’s doing Francis X. Bushman (in the silent version) his head is constantly on high and Steven Boyd is acting it to pieces. There are looks that he gives him that are just so clear.

  57. Dayne says:


    I fail to see why this is bad, or evidence of it being a bad movie. I’m not going to argue Ben-Hur is an intellectual giant, but it’s a supremely well-made movie that I find quite beautiful, and does play with many of the big issues of the time.

    This subtext (which is tenuous enough to be rejected, if you like) only adds to that, complicates the place these characters have been put due to race, nationality, creed and morality. It’s a much more complex film than you’re giving it credit for, and supremely well crafted. I especially find this a weak objection, as the past relationship between Ben-Hur and Massala only occupies center screen for the first hour or so of a four hour work – after that, they are only onscreen together during the chariot chase. See, I think you’re objections to this film do go back to a central difference between us – when watching a movie, I try to become that movie, to first take on it’s perspective, then investigate how well that perspective is portrayed, and THEN think about the weaknesses inherent in said viewpoint. I am thoroughly not Christian, but I love Ben-Hur because, as opposed to other biblical epics like Ten Commandments, it is essentially a human story. Christ becomes very important towards the end, but he is the subtitle, always. It’s a film about personal redemption and violence (both personal and political) and the costs associated with each. It’s true there’s elements of fairy tale, mostly when Jesus enters the screen, but it’s much deeper than that. I find the character of Ben-Hur to be absolutely fascinating, especially given the subtext suggested by Gore Vidal.

    It seems to me that you often let yourself get in the way of viewing a film, and end up tripping on your own dick because of it.

  58. Dexter says:

    Tripping on my own dick?

    I just thought the movie wasn’t my taste. It’s really gay, which is not my taste. You asked what I thought of it: I thought it was a gay fairy tale.

    I don’t try to become the movie that I watch because I don’t think that movies are simply something you do with your time, it’s not a roller-coaster. It’s not just there to immerse yourself in mindlessly. I like to watch a movie knowing that I will find something in it for myself.

    To show you that I’m not just full of hot air I recommend you watch the latest movie I found absolutely exceptional: Nicholas Ray’s On Dangerous Ground. It’s a fantastic movie about a reckless cop forced to confront himself when he meets someone who has very good reason to seek vengeance. Ida Lupino plays the film’s moral center.

    By the by, have you ever heard of Bertolt Brecht? He developed a theatrical technique called Verfremdungseffekt or distancing effect. What he wanted to do was to make the viewer a critical observer, conscious of the fact that they were watching performers on a stage; to act as though there were no fourth wall. The point of this being that reality itself is changeable just like the plays (he was a pronounced Marxist).

  59. Dayne says:

    I have heard of Bertolt Brecht, I studied Galileo in one of my classes last semester, and will be reading Mother Courage later in this semester. I liked Galileo quite a bit. He was part of a larger change occurring in Eastern Europe at the time, theatrically, as I understand it. Many plays were very consciously breaking the fourth wall – there was even one wherein the audience decided the end, and several wherein they “played a part.” He’s a phenomenal playwright, though I think what makes him most interesting is his antagonism towards the audience, which was part of the technique you described. He was also known for putting little vaudevillian songs in his plays, which are quite comical, though he was funny in general. Check out Galileo, it’s really good. I haven’t read Mother Courage yet, but I hear that’s his best.

    Haven’t you heard the phrase “tripping over your own dick”? I think that’s hilarious, a fun, vulgar way to talk about someone getting in their own way. I totally agree movie’s aren’t rollercoasters, nor should one’s immersion in them be mindless. I’m not advocating that at all. What I’m saying is that in order to appreciate a film aesthetically you have to set aside your personal viewpoint and enter the viewpoint of the film, THEN step out of it and criticize it fully. I think you have to feel the emotions a good film gives to you first, then be critical. That’s why I generally need to see a movie twice to know what I think. The first time through I’m just keeping tabs on the plot and the emotions running through the piece, putting myself in it and attempting to immerse totally. The second time through I step outside it, feeling the emotional content as I choose, and judging it critically as to how effective it is. These might converge at some point, but that’s how it is now, for good films anyway.

    I’ll have to check out On Dangerous Ground. Speaking of Nicolas Ray, have you seen In a Lonely Place? It stars Humphrey Bogart, who is, as always, amazing, though particularly in this film. I haven’t seen all his work, but I think this is his best, most introspective and deep performance.

    lol I can’t decide if you’re being homophobic or not. Regardless, it’s certainly a lot less homoerotic than many movies before and since, and the assumption inherent in judging it “gay” is that Charlton Heston is shirtless to attract men, when it’s more likely that was for the ladies. An incredibly erotic film, homo or otherwise, is Ten Commandments. See, there’s a film I don’t like because it betrays its own value system. It pretends to be a film about religion but derives so much eroticism from it’s shirtless Hebrews and Egyptians, which dynamic takes on an especially erotic tone considering the slave status of the beautiful Hebrew women, one of the main plotlines concerning one such woman kept as a sex slave. It’s clearly abusing the dogmatism and the repressed sexuality of its audience to gain sales, in a way that Passion might be abusing the dogmatism, racism, and blood-lust to do the same, though I think Gibson is clearly much more sincere than DeMille, even if he’s only a vessel for the portrayal of such things.

    I think it’s important to step out of your “taste” and try to like things you normally wouldn’t, to, again, immerse yourself in a different viewpoint and see what you come out the other side with. If I wasn’t willing to do that, I’d never have come to love any art, given that I was raised religious and my “taste” was only art the confirmed my childish (not that religion is childish, my religiousness just was) thoughts and opinions. We have to break our viewpoint often and constantly, otherwise we’re stuck, and that’s useless.

  60. Dexter says:

    Well, we can both agree on something finally. In a Lonely Place is up there on my list of amazing movies. Bogart was never better. The madness, the drama, his poor old washed-up friend and Gloria Grahame. My god! It’s simply astounding that movie.

    I read Mother Courage and it’s an incredible play, I hope you enjoy it. I haven’t read Life of Galileo though, I will have to check it out. The reason I bring up Brecht is that I like art that is unambiguous about its message. You are not supposed to think of it as anything less (or more) than what it presents.

    If you can find it, check out Odds Against Tomorrow. It’s written and directed by the blacklisted Abraham Polanski and it’s also one of the very last film-noirs, made in 1959. The film tells an extremely didactic tale about a bank robbery in which one of the guys is a white bigot and the other is Harry Belafonte.

    I’m going to watch The Ten Commandments. This sounds like an entertaining case of conservative repressed sexuality.

  61. Dayne says:

    Yes, In a Lonely Place truly is amazing. Bogart is so terrifying, in particular. I know he’s famous for his romantic roles (and who doesn’t love Casablanca?), but, damn, I love it when he plays savage people. The predatory way he stalks San Francisco in Maltese Falcon, the vulnerable lust in his eyes, the need to own, when he looks at Gloria Grahame at the climax of In a Lonely Place. It’s incredible. And that’s only the tip of how great that movie is.

    Yeah, Brecht was not known for pulling punches. I’m excited to read Mother Courage, especially since all we’re doing in that class is reading “history of theater” kind of stuff right now, instead of actually reading theater. Oh, well. I’ll be interested to hear what you think of Galileo, since that’s actually quite an ambiguous play. Brecht originally wrote it before WWII, and kinda put science as something of a saving force, particularly against the Nazis. But it’s hard to know what you think about science after the Holocaust and, especially, the atomic bomb. So, when Laughton approached Brecht with a translation/rewrite opportunity, the play became much more ambiguous, much more troubled about the nature of science and Galileo himself. It’s quite interesting.

    I like all kinds of art, unambiguous and ambiguous both. But I’ll admit I probably prefer ambiguous art. Hard to say why. I guess because life is ambiguous at best, and I do tend to think art is a mirror for life.

    I’ve put Odds Against Tomorrow on my netflix, I’ll definitely look into that one.

    Given your thoughts on censorship, and interest in the blacklist, I’m wondering what you think of On the Waterfront.

  62. Dexter says:

    I don’t love Casablanca.

    I think it’s extremely poorly written, makes the Nazis look like idiots and sentimentalizes the war as a whole. Claude Rains is the only one who I can take seriously and Ingrid Bergman is there to look good. One of Bogart’s worst roles, he does his best though. It makes it look like being dedicated to a serious cause means you have to give up personal feelings and become cold and distant. And the scene with the people singing the Marseilles, my god what melodrama. The whore cries, the Nazis are dismayed. It’s the definition of schlock.

    I haven’t seen The Maltese Falcon recently but I remember that one being quite good.

    I don’t know what you want me to say about On the Waterfront. It’s an extremely obvious movie, just Oscar bait as far as I’m concerned. They have it now, they had it then.

    Life of Galileo on the other hand…

    I shouldn’t have said that I read Mother Courage because I didn’t. I saw Theater of War, which is about the Public Theater putting on a show of Mother Courage with Meryl Streep. It looked brilliant.

    Life of Galileo on the other hand I did read.
    I don’t know how to describe that play. I read it from beginning to end and it’s difficult to give it an explanation. I once (facetiously) asked a theatre director what he thought of Chekhov, he said that’s like asking “What do you think of the sun?” Brecht was a genius, a living legend for a reason. He wrote learning plays in order to demonstrate to people the injustices of the world around them. Look up on Wikipedia The Exception and the Rule. What Brecht does is give people a reason to doubt the elementary assumptions that we have over our heroes, authority figures, the way we look at the poor and unfortunate. Just the way he employs the common people as opposed to the church exemplifies this in a brilliant way in two shorts scenes. How the common people saw a personal interest in the work of Galileo, the esteemed astronomer. I can’t exactly have words for this man’s work. Anyway thanks for giving me an excuse to read it.

  63. Dayne says:

    lol hipster much? Sometimes I wonder how much your antipathy towards well known classics comes from the knee jerk reaction of “It’s not that good!” when you feel something is over praised, but I’ll leave that to you. It’s not my concern lol.

    I love Casablanca. Yes, it’s melodrama, but it’s very good melodrama, and taking a stance against a genre that’s assumed histrionic attachments is hardly fair, considering that many melodramas are not that way, and can be quite subtle and artistic. Don’t forget that theatrical realism was a reaction to, and often rooted in, melodrama. Melodrama carries two salient characteristics – it deals with hyper dramatic, tense situations, and pits two opposing moralities against each other, where the audience has already decided which morality is best, which is usually the one that wins. Casablanca definitely is this, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good example of that. I find it to be incredibly well shot, acted, written, and edited. It is obvious, but it’s hard to call for oblique film making just prior to American involvement in WWII. This is a reaction to a political situation in which most of Western Europe, and by extension, the U.S., had decided who was clearly the villain (of which decision there’s ample evidence in support). Keep in mind that the original Galileo was no study in subtlety either, clearly seeing science as a defense against Nazism, a great evil.

    I love Bogart, Rains, Bergman, and Henreid. I think they’re a stellar cast and they play their roles excellently, with a considerable amount of subtlety, and just the right amount of melodrama. It’s a melodramatic situation, it calls for melodrama. If you don’t accept that central fact you cheat yourself of the enjoyment of the film.

    And the idea that it portrays being dedicated to a serious cause meaning you have to become cold and distant, discarding personal feelings, I find more than a little ridiculous. You could argue Henreid’s character does that, though again that’s debatable. He’s not overwhelmingly warm, but he does refuse to leave without Bergman, and has several moments of surprising humanity and warmth. And Bogart’s development through the film clearly runs contrary to that notion – one of the funniest lines is the last one, which he says after choosing to dedicate himself to a cause. More than altruism, Casablanca is about personal integrity, and Bogart’s arc is getting that back. What that means is setting aside your selfish but totally legitimate desires for the much larger fight at hand. One of the things I love best about Casablanca is that it doesn’t pretend this is painless or try to preach it – the ending is quite sad, though triumphant. Most likely, Bogart will die fighting the Nazis and Bergman, though in love in a particular way with Henreid, will mourn the true love of her life. Even if he survives, they can never be together. It’s about the loss that inevitably comes with not being totally selfish, but bearing that doing what must be done.

    As I’ve always said before, I find whether one agrees with the idea of what must be done, in a well made film, to be immaterial.

    Maltese Falcon is brilliant. That’s all that needs to be said for now.

    You know the history behind the film, correct? Whether you like the film itself or not, knowing the history, I find your claim that it’s just Oscar bait to be rather simplistic. I was particularly interested in your thoughts on Elia Kazan and the blacklist, considering your evident love of censorship :P. Further, I was interested in what you thought of On the Waterfront as a kind of justification of his snitching, again considering your thoughts on censorship.

    “The Exception and the Rule” sounds very much like a Brecht play. I think part of what is interesting about “Galileo” is how he complicates the more obvious aspects of his Marxist thinking. The people do not rise all at once – in fact, in a decidedly counter-Marxist way of things happening, Galileo’s student, an intellectual, is trying to teach them, and they are stubbornly refusing to believe, at least for now. Further, though he sneaks out his manuscript, Galileo is broken by the Church, and there’s significant amount of contempt on Brecht’s side for him, though the feelings are deeply complicated.

    I think what I love most about Galileo is that Brecht himself wasn’t quite sure what he thought of it.

    Oh, sorry I haven’t replied in so long. Midterms, you know.

  64. Dexter says:

    “Further, I was interested in what you thought of On the Waterfront as a kind of justification of his snitching, again considering your thoughts on censorship.”

    That’s why I don’t have anything to say about On the Waterfront, it’s an excuse for Elia Kazan’s actions. I don’t care about it. It doesn’t affect me. I wouldn’t even censor it the message is so blatant – I would simply burn it. Censorship is reserved for films that carry an implicit message that is destructive to the viewership like The Passion of the Christ or Dirty Harry, I would add GoodFellas to this list. Films that brutalize the viewer and create a bloodlust in the public.

    On the Waterfront is honestly not even worth debating. There is no discussion about it’s message or it’s morals.

    Galileo, on the other hand, is a something that is worth discussing. It is about a man who renounces what he stood for, for the sake of self-preservation. It is about the difference what you achieve and how you live your life. The grandness of Galileo’s discovery doesn’t live up to his boorish personality and ultimate feebleness. Sarti changes his views of science by the end of the play and then discovers that Galileo doesn’t have anything to show for himself because considers himself unworthy (even though he finishes manuscript.)

    Brecht’s Marxism I think comes out in the way he sees that common people need to be educated for they are stuck in their lives and cannot see what discoveries can change their lives. Remember the speech the monk gives to Galileo about how science destroys the meaning of the working lives of people who toil for nothing. Science, the monk fears, will make them miserable.

    Good luck on the midterms.

  65. Dayne says:

    That’s a really interesting read on Galileo, though I think the play leaves it debatable how much he achieved, considering the last scene with Sarti and the child, which is my favorite scene by the way. It’s still in question how much of an impact Galileo really had, which becomes especially interesting when considering Brecht’s Marxism. You can almost feel him growing more cynical as he writes the play, a lingering question of whether or not the public really can be educated, which calls into question the entirety of the Marxist framework.


    “Censorship is reserved for films that carry an implicit message that is destructive to the viewership” Explain this. What messages? Why are they destructive? And why must the viewership be protected from them by such extreme measures? Given your previous thoughts on the use of censorship accidentally creating better art and a better art culture, why would you censor dangerous messages? If it’s to create a better art culture, through the danger being associated with good art and therefore good art becoming more valuable, wouldn’t you want to censor good art, as a backward way of promoting it?

  66. Dayne says:

    And thanks for the well wishes on the midterms. 🙂

  67. Dexter says:

    Dangerous messages as in the way certain films brutalize an audience. I’m not try to eliminate messages as such but the violence of films and the inconsequential nature of what is being depicted on screen is harmful to an audience because it desensitizes them. That makes it dangerous.

    If you want to keep art effective (dangerous in the metaphorical sense) than in a way you do have to censor good art but not eliminate it. Take Doctor Zhivago as an example. The book was censored, it was only printed after being smuggled out to Italy and Pasternak’s house was then raided by the NKVD. It was afterwards turned into a successful Hollywood movie. The ironic part of this is that Doctor Zhivago is a communist work, only it’s critical of the regime. The communists in power thought that they controlled art standards and therefor art itself. The sensible thing to do would have been to ban it but allow its publication. That way you would have a good work of art but society would not collapse because the order of the day still proved that was a power to reckoned with.

    and by the way…
    Why exactly is the last scene your favorite? It’s the scene in which very little is displayed except the ignorance of the people – I thought it was the play’s only weak point. It’s much more dramatic to end on Galileo’s confession.

  68. Dayne says:

    I disagree, but maybe that’s because I’m not a Communist 😛 I think the last scene is the best because it ends the play on an ambiguous note, a question of public knowledge and the actual effectiveness of Galileo. Before, we received scenes showing Galileo having a massive impact, such as the parade scene, with the actors playing out Galileo’s theories. Brecht needs to counter balance that with an essential question of human nature, which questions how much “Truth” really matters to us. This is also historically true – for most people of the time period and later, the most they could spare for Galileo was a shrug. I also love what it says about Sarti as a character, that he’ll never give up. I can almost imagine him traveling back that way and stopping to look the kid up, to see if it sank in. He knows the process is slow, that doubt is no quick thing but still an inevitable one. You can feel change in the wind, like the end of Young Mr. Lincoln, or, ironically, Terminator. You don’t need to see what happens later because you as an audience member are assured of the change that’s coming, but still left with just the right amount of ambiguity about that change. I think I read this play as more ambiguous than you – Brecht still isn’t sure what he thinks about this.

    The problem with your censorship theory is the perceptiveness of the public. It isn’t dangerous unless the state actually believes in what it says and puts action behind it. The public is really good at sniffing out what the state is serious about – there are still fornication and adultery laws in much of the U.S. that everyone has forgotten about because they were only token gestures to ultra-religious constituents in the first place. If the state were to ban the book but not actually put anything behind that ban, to allow it to be published, it wouldn’t be dangerous and wouldn’t achieve your stated aim.

    The problem with your thinking on censorship is that it’s all well and good conceptually (the college student’s favorite haunt) but it’s practically ludicrous. We can say censorship has it’s benefits, but it only has those benefits if the state isn’t actually seeking said benefits. I think you misread Osip Mandelstam in the quote you mentioned above. Not only is there a certain amount of sarcasm there, the quote comes across to me something like, “Yeah, it really sucks, but there is a benefit to it.” It still sucks, despite the benefit. It’s rather like advocating we get cancer because it teaches you how to really value life. I disagree with the assumption behind that point – that we only value something once that value is given by it’s absence. Not only do I disagree with that, I think it’s bullshit and find it deeply offensive. That is a dangerous thought, though I would still never employ censorship against it. That’s the psuedo-intellectual, I-sound-so-smart shit they employ in a film like Saw. I don’t need to kill my mother to realize I love her, I don’t need to have my poetry collection burned to realize it’s valuable. That’s not just ridiculous, but it’s sick.

    Not that I’m saying you are – I have no idea. But I do suspect that rot underpinning many of your thoughts here.

    I also think there’s already social mechanisms in place to bring about your stated aim with government intervention. We’ve discussed Van Gogh and his rebellion against the status quo in the Parisian art world. That’s an excellent example – the simple tendency of life to come in trends created the thing Van Gogh needed to fight against. The French Secret Service would not have helped.

    I also disagree with what you think should be censored, that being film that brutalizes the audience, desensitizes them. I do find film like Dirty Harry and Goodfellas quite disturbing when approached in this fashion, especially the former but that’s probably just because I fundamentally disagree with fascism lol. But that’s also quite valuable. If art is the attempt to capture the human experience, and I think there’s at least elements of that in all art, then desensitization can be called for. I find it particularly effective when a film desensitizes you and then rips that away, forcing you to face what you’ve now become guilty of by association. I think Goodfellas is a good example of this, though not a perfect one. Just think in terms of how the film convinces you this whole mobster thing isn’t so bad, lulls you into a state of security and confidence before peeling away layer after layer and getting to the dark, destructive heart of the whole thing. That movement of “desensitization” I find to be incredibly valuable and interesting in art.

    Even if the film doesn’t do the “de” part, I’m not quite willing to condemn that either. Sometimes art is just fun, and sometimes violence is a part of that. I’m willing to accept, when watching Casablanca for instance, that the Nazis deserve to die. I know, historically, this is very unfair, near psychopathic, but that’s for a different film. Right now I’m watching Casablanca. When I’m watching that other film I’ll then think about that moral structure and go from there. Casablanca isn’t about the Nazis, it’s about everyone else.

  69. Dexter says:

    You know, it’s talking to you that I begin to appreciate Socrates’ argument in the Republic for the banning of poets from the city. They allow us to sympathize with the most immoral and cruel actors in our society and are therefore a danger to the community.

    You are quite right to find an understanding of rot behind my thoughts. This comes from my personal life which was dominated by librarians, university professors, and scholars – all of whom have the air of decay about them. It my resent for them that fueled and to certain extent still fuels my conviction for the need and relevance for great art.

    • Dexter says:

      Don’t you think that art should have some sort of standard or basic message from which it should not stray from? Isn’t there a moral obligation within the parameters of art itself to create something like “good” art that should be adhered to?

      As Sartre put it in “What is Literature?” :

      “Although literature is one thing and morality a quite different one, at the heart of the aesthetic imperative we discern the moral imperative. For, since the one who writes recognizes, by the very fact that he takes the trouble to write, the freedom of his readers, and since the one who reads, by the mere fact of his opening the book, recognizes the freedom of the writer, the work of art, from whichever side you approach it, is an act of confidence in the freedom of men.”

  70. Dayne says:

    I find it interesting that you quote Sartre after complaining about the rotten state of intellectuals 😛

    I do quite like Sartre, and find a lot of value in that quote. But what you’re talking about there is an implicit value given to the action of reading, as opposed to the explicit values you’re both condemning (when dangerous to society) and advocating (when good for society). I think art is much too complicated, too big, too important, to put such a paltry thing as morals on top of it. No, you diminish it by such an attempt, and show the pale weakness of your value judgments. Great art is greater than criticism, and absorbs it like jelly. Many critics have tried to reduce Hamlet, or King Lear, or Beethoven’s 9th, or The Third Man for that matter. These works are better than their critics, above the culture and, I would argue, the people that created them. That’s what art is all about to me – the pursuit of something higher than oneself, a transcendent truth that belittles the walls we’ve put up between each other.

    Bad poetry done. Yes, I can see how I make you revisit everyone’s favorite Greek. The problem, of course, is that both you and Socrates put morality above art, a reference of which I remain unconvinced. I think that’s the greatest thing about art – it helps me to look at another person and better understand them, even if in the most basic of ways. Socrates forgets that art helps us understand better the “higher” (in his opinion) members of society as well, potentially even helping in the desire to emulate them. But what you said is not the real substance of the thought – no, the philosopher is afraid of poetry because it levels the “higher” and the “lower” forms, thus completely invalidating his beloved cosmology. It is through art that we see the souls of other men, but Socrates doesn’t want art because it prevents him from effectively writing off those “lesser” men. We never like what disagrees with our worldviews.

    It’s too bad he said that. The Greeks never could get a handle on their own art. Nietzsche would say it’s the eternal Apollonian-Dionysian war going on there, and I’m more than a little inclined to agree with him, in this particular instance.

    Do all intellectuals stink so? Surely you exaggerate 😛

  71. Dexter says:

    Number 1. Criticism, true criticism anyway, is not a reduction of a work of art it is an interpretation of it.

    Number 2. Art is not above culture, art is culture.

    Number 3. I am not against intellectuals, I am against academics. Why would I be against intellectuals? I told you I’m a Communist.

    I think you are being so glib with me because you see me as I vainly trying to give what you call “transcendent truth” Earthly purpose. Those “lesser men” that Socrates was writing off, he very specifically mentions are tyrants. The whole 9th Book of the Republic is dedicated to describing their psychology and ultimate demise because they ruled by only by their whims.

    The whole point of a transcendent truth is that it is supposed to be universal, accessible to all. Art is supposed to be the way we experience these truths. Anybody is supposed to be able watch a Hitchcock movie or read Baudelaire. There is no restriction to these works except your own ability to realize what is transcendent about them.

    The Greeks could never get a handle on their own art! Nietzsche could never get a handle on his obsession with Wagner. That doesn’t mean that Aeschylus is not worth taking seriously, if anything it means we should take it more seriously because what’s interesting to see is the conflict between the two. It means that you have to read Greek art from either one point of view or the other, not some “higher level”.

    You perfectly demonstrate the attitude that I have fighting against for so long…

    “I think art is much too complicated, too big, too important, to put such a paltry thing as morals on top of it.”

    Morals come from art. Society has a set of values that it decides on maintaining and represents them, thereby reproducing them. If we don’t take values seriously we will lose them altogether and we will wake up in a reality TV show world where lynch mobs chase Muslim immigrants every Friday night for ratings. Probably on the FOX network.

  72. Dayne says:

    You misunderstand me, sir! I apologize if I appear to be glib, I do respect your viewpoints and don’t want to look like I’m condescending to you at all, because I’m not. I just always insert little jokes because that’s the way I think. If I’m glib with you or Socrates, I’m just as glib to myself and, well, everything. There are few things that I approach in a totally serious matter, and don’t really wish to discuss those unless I know someone really, really well. That stuff’s the pulpy, vulnerable part of me, which I’ll mostly keep off the net. I’m sure you understand.

    I love Aeschylus! My God, the Oresteia! What a work! But I think he underscores my point – I was not criticizing Greek art at all. I was saying the Greeks themselves could never get a handle on it – it was far too great for a people to ever get a handle on, really. Greek art, especially the Oresteia, is that kind of transcendence I was talking about – it talks about much bigger things than it’s own culture could really handle, so they stuck Euripides in there. Can’t put Apollo on trial, no, he’ll swoop in at the last moment, pass judgment, and save the day. I am, of course, reducing Euripides for my own purposes, but my point does stand. Just try to compare the Oresteia to Electra. One pales in comparison, and we both know which.

    Number 1 – Good criticism is such, but most criticism is reductive, unfortunately. The good critic knows his criticism is always below the art, even bad art. He offers his interpretation as something that hopefully can be a footnote in the work itself, something interesting and valuable. But honestly, there is no better criticism than the gasp of surprise from an audience, the thrill of great art through a spectator. The good critic knows this, and respects it above all. Most critics don’t, though they did once. What a thing to lose! Hope I never get there myself.

    Number 2 – Culture is a hopelessly maligned word these days, stretched by anthropologists and apologists (see what I did there? :P) to encompass just about everything, and thus made useless. But even given it’s current usage (to mean just about everything) I still argue art is above culture. Of course, you must understand me here. I was raised religiously, so still carry something of a religious disposition. Given that, I am now an atheist, and have substituted art in religions place. I’m sure someday something else will go there, but I’m young yet, and art fits just fine for the time being. I think art is greater than culture, and the power of the Oresteia confirms that to my mind. The culture of Aeschylus, his trilogies and ritual performances, are all gone, but the Oresteia is much deeper than all those things. It’s about the basics of life itself, and so is about the only thing in modern parlance greater than culture, by definition – it encompasses and transcends it, thank God.

    Number 3 – Mostly I was joking. Of course you’re not against intellectuals, or even academics, I would argue. You’re just enough of them to hate them lol, as am I. Though I think I’m more that way with hipsters. Goddamn, I hate those ukelele-playing, fedora-ruining bastards.

    I don’t think we have to pick a viewpoint when experiencing art, except perhaps the first time, the art’s own viewpoint. After that, that’s the beauty of multiple watchings. My viewpoint will always be different because I change over time, as does the art, for me.

    Values should be taken seriously, I agree. But they are not greater than art. I agree that art is often how a culture debates, moderates, advances, and understands its morals, but that right there puts art higher than morals. Art can destroy, challenge, advance, etc., any moral. Morals have tried to destroy art, and they never will. Morals do come from art. And art comes from life. Circles within circles. Guess which is greater. Art does not just talk about morals. Art is how we understand life itself – only life is greater than art, if you ask me.

    But again, that’s just bad poetry 😛

    I’m having trouble with this paragraph:

    “I think you are being so glib with me because you see me as I vainly trying to give what you call “transcendent truth” Earthly purpose. Those “lesser men” that Socrates was writing off, he very specifically mentions are tyrants. The whole 9th Book of the Republic is dedicated to describing their psychology and ultimate demise because they ruled by only by their whims.”

    Could you unpack that one? It seems to bounce around some. I’ll admit, I’m not as familiar with The Republic as I’d like to be, so that could be part of it. But it seems the thinking’s a little tangled. *shrug*

    Have you ever read the play “Six Characters in Search of an Author” by Luigi Pirandello? I have a suspicion you’d enjoy that one. Next time we talk I’ll probably have read “Mother Courage”. I’m excited for that.

  73. Dexter says:

    I’m sorry it took me so long to reply to you. I don’t know if you’ll read this but I couldn’t find a concise way to explain Plato’s Republic, Book IX, is about the tyrant that is the last stage of corruption in a just city.

    The tyrant is corrupt because he follows his whims and doesn’t hold himself to the ideal of justice. The aristocrat (the figure who is restrained and keeps himself within the confines of the just and true) is the one that doesn’t have to fear death. The poet is dangerous to Socrates (Plato)is because he can make us sympathize with tyrants. That is the gift of the poet – to make us sympathize and feel for people who we can never now. If a poet can make us sympathize for a tyrant he can make people unjust.

    “But what you said is not the real substance of the thought – no, the philosopher is afraid of poetry because it levels the “higher” and the “lower” forms, thus completely invalidating his beloved cosmology.”

    The cosmology is that philosopher is the one who should be the ruler of the just city because he is capable of understanding the nature of truth and relating it as well. Cosmology is a very inaccurate way of putting it.

    I had a terrible time thinking about how to explain this especially since to me this seems almost entirely beside the point.

    The discussion we were having was about the Passion of the Christ and my view is that it is inexcusable the way violence is depicted in this film and that Mel Gibson’s believes don’t justify what is depicted. I told you what films I consider to be actually Christian, and I can tell you why too.

    Censorship is something that means that somebody has standards, hypocritical or not – standards. Plato makes the point that the poet makes you begin to feel for a corrupt person and this can be damaging for a citizenry.

    I think that you need a minimal amount of censorship because that’s the official word for it. The personal and everyday word for it is decency. You need a minimum of decency for what is depicted on cinema screens. Plato you can consider my intellectual basis for this but you don’t need Plato… Rousseau, Marx, Nietzsche, you can even go with Jesus.

    I sincerely don’t believe that you have a principled stance on this issue, I think that you like to poke holes in my argument. You are a jolly contrarian.

    The truth is out there my friend, but you have to search for it and don’t trip up those who do…

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