Saturday, February 10, 2007

Obama's Officially In + Inland Empire

It's officially official: this morning, Barack Obama (at left, AFP/Mandel Ngan) launched his campaign for the presidency. On a superfrigid day in Springfield, the Illinois state capital, in front of the Old State Capitol building, before which Abraham Lincoln began his anti-slavery campaign in 1858, the 45-year-old Democratic US senator promised to transform the political landscape, end the war in Iraq, and bridge the partisan divide. Despite the hellish temperature, the enthusiastic crowd numbered in the thousands. Obama appealed to the audience, and more broadly to American voters, to elect him as a representative of a new generation, with a fresh and clear vision and the will to enact it. He acknowledged his relatively brief tenure in office, which has become a standard/conventional wisdom talking point against him, yet argued that his demonstrated leadership skills and determination to unite the country and put it back on track were what the US needs--and regardless of how you feel about his candidacy, his point is well taken, especially after eight years of the current quasi-fascist horrorshow, which may include a third war, against Iran, as its capstone.

A great quote:

For the last six years we've been told that our mounting debts don't matter, we've been told that the anxiety Americans feel about rising health care costs and stagnant wages are an illusion, we've been told that climate change is a hoax, and that tough talk and an ill-conceived war can replace diplomacy, and strategy, and foresight. And when all else fails, when Katrina happens, or the death toll in Iraq mounts, we've been told that our crises are somebody else's fault. We're distracted from our real failures, and told to blame the other party, or gay people, or immigrants.

The primaries are a long ways off, and the odds against Obama are long (though recent polling shows him in second or third place in key primary states, and matching up well against the Republican media darlings), but his election would be revolutionary, constituting a social and political landmark in American history.

Update: Obama's already being attacked by...the Prime Minister of Australia! That's right, he's only a primary candidate at this point, but a foreign leader has jumped into the fray to attack him. John Howard, Australia's right-wing, pro-Bush PM, obviously feels so threatened by Obama (WTF?) that he felt the need to issue this statement. Is he suffering from hallucinations that an Aborigine (Black Australian) might be in a position to run the US? It's pretty bizarre, but let's see what other friends of W decide to launch criticisms of him.

Meanwhile, Steve Gilliard, whose News Blog I check every day, repeats the meme that he has no experience and that, according to some Black people (this time Tavis Smiley's State of the Black Nation crew), he's not down enough. Oh, and he adds that Lincoln was a racist, and since Obama delivered his remarks in the racist's hometown, etc. In the comments more than a few people contexualize Lincoln's feelings about slavery, Black people (and bodies), and so forth, but Stanford historian George Williamson wrote a highly informative book about this topic, and if you read it you'll all you want about Lincoln's issues somatic norms and so on.


This afternoon, after weeks of wanting to go see it, I finally traipsed down to the Music Box and caught David Lynch's Inland Empire. As I described it to C tonight, I can't really describe it except to suggest that, after one viewing, I think it primarily is Lynch's tone poem of the nightmare(s) of Hollywood, with Laura Dern standing in as his (or someone's) alter egos. But then Laura Dern (Nikki Grace/Susan Blue) is only one of several actors and actresses who occupy the screen in a dizzying round-robin fashion. After a confusing intro, which includes a transaction between a prostitute and john in Polish, both with blurred out faces, in black and white, and people in rabbit suits in a sitcom, the film appears to settle on semi-firm footing with Grace Zabriskie (Visitor #1) appearing, in full derangement mode, at the mansion of Dern's Nikki Grace, a rich but unemployed actress, to spew what could only be considered a disorientingly scary prediction about Grace's upcoming role, as Susan Blue, in a film with the ridiculous title "On High in Blue Tomorrows...." And scary only barely encapsulates the delirious horrors that ensue, as Grace, on set with Justin Theroux's Devon Berk as Billy Side, under the direction of Jeremy Irons's Kingsley Stewart (with a dour Harry Dean Stanton as Freddie Howard in tow), begins to fall too deeply into her role, which is to say into her own inland empires, and out of reality altogether...though Lynch, as in Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, and his other quasi-realist creations, poses important questions about what the "real" really is. One of my university colleagues mentioned that she'd felt almost continuous unease throughout the film, and I can echo her assessment, adding that I had to cover my eyes more than once; kept mistaking mini-climaxes for the real thing; and still have no idea what the scenes in Poland (as opposed to in Polish) or the rabbit family or the thuggish circus crew represent, though other viewers may have readily picked up on the semiotic web connecting them to the rest of the film. (I wonder if Lynch fully knows himself, or if he regrets having not cut the strange Diane Ladd--Laura Dern's mother in real life--talkshow scene as well.) The actor Peter J. Lucas, who played Dern's husband, Piotrek Krol, creeped me out to no end.

The best things about it were Dern's performance, which entailed both range and stamina, which she supplied in full measure, and the film's almost nonstop tone and sense of menace, as well as its hallucinatory movement as narrative, in and against time; Lynch literally transcribed his nightmarish fantasy of Hollywood, as one infernally bad marriage/(hetero)sexual transaction for pay, boundless in every way, directly into a loose(ly) script(ed) form. The accordingly matching affect, it would then seem, would be something profounding and unremittingly disquieting. It struck me that this was a kind of apogee of experimental filmmaking that we seldom see--though Lynch welds his lyrical visual poetics, glazed here by digital video's fuzzing technlogy, with what could only be called drama in the archetypal sense, and, more specifically, were there not hints of (sentimentalized) resolution, tragedy. Instead, what he's produced is an ironic comedy whose language game is always partially concealed, veiled, hidden, though he gives us many pointers, so it does no justice to call it beautiful or brilliant or anything else, because what on earth could these terms mean on anyone's terms but his? And yet any one of them, as well as far harsher appraisals, might be appropriate too--and that, I think, is part of his point. I want to see it again, just to see if I can piece together more clues, but I'm glad I caught it before it disappeared.

1 comment:

  1. Hey John!

    Not sure what happened to the original message I sent.

    But, I did see Inland Empire! it was fantastic!!!

    We SO need to talk about this. But, questions I thought of as I watch it and I wanted to talk toyou about them:

    1. What was the ending of the film? Did Nikki Grace regain her grip on reality? Or, did she ever "live" in "reality"

    2. What is "reality"?

    3. Where did the movie "end"? Or, was there ever an "ending"? Was there a "beginning"?

    4. What was the Polish story about?

    5. The Nikki Grace/Susan Blue/"Susan The Prostitute": Versions of reality for Nikki/Susan/"Susan", or Are ALL of these women one and the same?

    6. Why didn't Laura Dern get an Oscar nomination for this role? She was fucking FIERCE!!!

    7. And, why do I fear that we will never see Dern in another lead role until Lynch works with her again?

    I'll talk to you soon.