Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sunday Thoughts (Obama, Economic Collapse, Haneke & Noé)

Nearly a week has passed since I began this post, and I admit that, now, at the end of this quarter (exams start tomorrow), I just don't have to time to keep it up. Next quarter will be as bad if not worse, I think. So what's to do? I guess pop in from time to time and, when the air is clear, come up with something of interest. April is poetry's month, so I'm going to aim for a poem at least every other day if I can, though on the nights when I have to write out my lectures I realize I'll be lucky to copy over or type out even a haiku. But I will try.

Now, on to news that now feels like it's from the last century:

Barack Obama won Mississippi's primary [on Tuesday], after having Wyoming's caucuses on Saturday [a week ago]. According to the Clintonistas, who are still working that surrogate-racist-remark angle, these states don't count. I agree that it's unlikely Obama will win either Mississippi or Wyoming in the general election, but a recent SurveyUSA poll showed that he could probably carry some other states Democrats haven't won in a while, like Colorado and Virginia, while Hillary Rodham Clinton would win the Kerry states plus Florida and Ohio. (With a little help from Diebold, but you didn't hear that from me.)

In both cases, they defeat the establishment media's favorite McKrush by a hair. Looking at the SurveyUSA maps, though, I think it's fair to say that Obama would carry New Jersey (I mean, seriously) over McCain, and probably Pennsylvania as well, while Clinton would win Washington State and Oregon, which I cannot see going for Senator 100-years-in-Iraq. But what do I know? I thought Al Gore won. (That's right, he did.) I thought John Kerry would pull out Ohio. (He may have, but we'll never know, will we?) I thought...Bill Bradley didn't have a chance in hell, which is why I didn't join his campaign as a speechwriter. Well, my judgment isn't always so off.

Obama has a real test before him with Pennsylvania, which looks like prime Clinton territory, especially with all the Clinton boosters seeded throughout the state, and Hillary's ancestral roots in Scranton. From the governor, Ed Rendell, to Philadelphia's mayor, Mike Nutter, the state has Clintonland stamped all over it. (I'm not sure who new anti-abortion US Senator Bob Casey Jr. is supporting.) Even still, Obama will probably close the gap considerably, especially if he figures out a way to address the concerns that were raised during the Ohio-Texas scramble, about his fitness to occupy the warmonger's seat, his double-talking on NAFTA (which is to say, his credibility and claims to offer a new politics), and his ability to convince the Children-of-the-Corn zombies devouring those viral Muslim-smearing emails that he's not going to recite Osama bin Laden's verses at his inaugural--or, I must update, to don a daishiki, quote Amiri Baraka's onomatopoetic machine-gun verses, and rename the federal buildings after deceased Black Panthers.

(Truthfully, were Jeremiah Wright's comments about the racism Obama faced, or the US's global meddling and destructiveness that controversial? I know the answer...).


Meanwhile, New York State has a new governor, David Paterson. He's New York's first African-American governor, and the first legally blind person to become governor of any US state. Paterson's to the left of his predecessor on many issues, and has a strong track record on LGBTQ rights.


How about the horrid Bear Stearns news--first, they were on the brink of insolvency on Friday and had to be bailed out by the Federal Reserve, which has been working hard to keep a number of banks afloat, and JP Morgan Chase, and today they were snapped by JP Morgan Chase for the astonishingly cut-rate price of about $2/share--along with all the other negative financial indicators, like net job losses, rising inflation, the plummeting dollar, and increasing foreclosures and dead home sales? I remember that when I was graduating from college and considering what to do with my life, or rather, what to do that would help me pay off my student loans, and chose to work at a commercial bank (Boston then had half a dozen or so, nearly all of which have merged into one conglomerate) rather than an investment bank, Bear Stearns was one of the houses that someone of my classmates headed to, though they didn't seem, at least in my perception, to hold it in the same stellar regard as Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and some of the other investment firms. It nevertheless was until recently one of the premier firms, and just a year ago, its shares were selling at $170. The bank that employed Sanford Weill, Pursuit of Happyness author Christopher Gardner, and other important figures in Wall Street history is now kaput--and I doubt it'll be the last one to hover on the brink. All in all, the world of high finance looks extremely precarious right now, and from what I read on the Internets, some major economists have little confidence that despite the well-known acumen that Fed Chair Ben Bernanke possesses, neither he nor anyone else may be able to do anything to sort things out in the short term. A "depression" seems unlikely, and the scenario I suggested to C, "stagflation" (remember that?) may not come to pass (we can hope), but the recession is already with us, and may worsen before it wanes. (A Bush in office and economic problems: talk about the worst kind of dèja vu.)

Another question: given the Fed's massive underwriting over the last few months of the US's shaky financial institutions, are we witnessing the covert nationalization of some of these banks and non-banking financial institutions?

Is this more socialization of debt, as profits continue to be privatized?

And where's the outcry, from the right-wing and the DLC types, about this form of "socialism"?


I thought about going to see Michael Haneke's new film Funny Games last night, but passed on it. I'm a fan of his work--especially the outré The Piano Teacher, The Time of the Wolf, Code Inconnu, and Caché--but this new remake of his previous Austrian version of the same film sounds especially gratuitous and not really worth forking over $10 for. I'm also not a big fan of the film's primary actors, Tim Roth, Naomi Watts (who really is overexposed--memo to Hollywood, there are other actresses out there, including American actresses), or Michael Pitt, whose performances always seem to be lubricated by quaaludes, so I'll wait until Netflix carries the film to see it if I do.

I'm very curious, however, about Gaspar Noé's upcoming film, Enter the Void, still in production, which appears to be about post-mortal consciousness, if such a thing exists, with really visually stunning mandalas, time travel, and so forth woven into the script. His Irréversible is one of the more thematically and emotionally disturbing films to appear in the last 10 years, though his I'll Stand Alone and Carne aren't far behind. Both Hanneke and Noé seem motivated by a Schopenhauerian interest in pre-rational destructive behavior, a a hyper-Nietzschean view of power, and a post-Marxian, anti-bourgeois desire to shock by demonstrating the power of human cruelty and its consequences. But Haneke's approach centers more on violence and questions of ethics than Noé's, who is chiefly fascinated to explore two emotions, desire and disgust. Both locate their experiments in the domestic sphere, which they seem to want to explode. Noé's new film does not seem to touch upon his usual preoccupations, but then I've only read (badly) the French descriptions and writeups. There's a dead body involved, so who knows where he'll go?

Hanneke would be a good choice to direct the film version of Cormac McCarthy's The Road--close as it is in some ways to The Time of the Wolf--but John Hillcoat (who?) is doing the honors. Charlize Theron, Viggo Mortenson, Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce, and Michael K. Williams*--Omar, from The Wire!--are in it. I dread to see what it's going to turned into, especially given Hillcoat's background in music videos, but such is Hollywood. Perhaps Noé, whose treatment of homosex has veered from homophobic to enlightened, could consider filming one of the late Guillaume Dustan's novels. Nicolas Pages is probably too linguistically complex, but Dans ma chambre (In My Bedroom) or Je sors ce soir (I got Out Tonight) would be worth tackling. That is, unless another director (François Ozon? Lional Baier? Gaël Morel? Robert Sallis?) gets to them first. I doubt an American director, especially one backed by Hollywood, would touch these books, since they are relentless anti-sentimental, extremely graphic, and populated by a constellation of characters most American "gay" (male) feature films aren't interested in....

*For readers of The Road, can any of you predict which character Williams will play? When I think about the book, none comes quickly to mind.


  1. What would be beautiful is if he played the man at the end, who saved the boy; but of course he'll be one of the cannibals who nearly catches the father in the basement where those poor wretches are held captive/being butchered (or one of the earlier killers who chase the man and boy through the woods).

    Kai in NYC

  2. Socialization of Debt!

    That is exactly it!

    Mortgage crisis and all.

    This is a terrifying time.

    I watched a young kid on the train dancing to his headphones . . . I wonder if he knows what is about to happen . . . hell, do I?

  3. Kai, I said almost the same thing about the likely role to C, who asked me why I thought this. I hope you're right; that would be great. I assume Charlize Theron will play the late wife rather than the...well, no spoilers for those who haven't read it. You know who I'm talking about.

    Bill, I don't think any of us knows. Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch are supposedly teetering as well, and Citibank is in serious trouble, though their deposits are guaranteed by the Feds--by law. Today I heard Alan Blinder (sp?) on News Hour point out that if the $30 billion of assets that Bernanke basically guaranteed (socialized) turns out to be worthless, well, he can always just print money! Are you getting your wheelbarrow ready? Your rowboat? Practicing your German, French, Spanish or Portuguese (of course there's always Canada)?

  4. hey john!

    from what I've heard, Michael K. Williams may have a minor role (someone who is killed off relatively early that tries to help viggo mortenson and his son or what was said above) or they have "racialized" a supporting character from the text (making a previously white character black)...

    I don't know. If I hear anything else, i'll let you know. But, I like Charlize Theron, and I know she really wanted this role basically to work with Viggo and she apparently loves McCarthy's work (then again, Theron is actually quite intelligent and very on point in regard to her acting and producing choices)

    Noe: i want to see this when it comes out. i'm curious..and i agree with you on your analysis of Haneke and Noe..though Noe only focuses on polarizing dualities (desire vs disgust--knowing full well both can function without each other, but usually go hand in hand depending on who you talk to)

    I'm probably going to see FUNNY GAMES USA. But, it bothers me that the only americans in the film are the killers and the son...i'm not a big fan of Naomi's either (she had a ridiculously promising career post Mulholland Drive, The Ring, and 21 Grams. But, i guess getting $10-$15 Million per film trumps challenging yourself as an actress. Though, she does give a VERY understated and slept on performance in EASTERN PROMISES last year. I thought she'd hold out for more challenging work, but I guess not).

    As for American actresses, there are a host of performers who could have done it...oddly enough, this could have been role I would have loved to have seem Julianne Moore or even Angela Bassett do...i.e. very strong dramatic actresses who usually play strong heroines actually playing against type for once...

    who knows? And Bear Stearns--HOT MESS. I temped there as a financial proofreader last year and was there up until I left. They were laying folk off even then to deal with the growing budget deficit.

  5. Ryan,

    I hope he's not one of the monsters McCarthy describes.... I can see Theron as the wife. I know Mortenson's a sought-after quantity, but I think he's sort of blank, not much there. Certainly no DeNiro or Hoffman or Washington. But I guess he's this generation's hot thing. Theron does have a lot of talent. Can you imagine Bassett in that Haneke film? Wow! I wish he or some other directors were so daring. But then there's the bottom line. Not that Haneke's film is going to sell all that many tickets, though in Chicago it's playing at suburban theaters, which the Chicago Reader suggests was primarily to attract teen violence-porn enthusiasts.

    Noé's film sounds incredibly bizarre and fascinating. So of course I can't wait to see it.

    Bear Stearns--yes, hot messy mess. One investor's stake went from $1 billion to about $43 million, or something like that. It's still millions, but seriously. I think of all the other employees, especially the low-level ones, who've lost almost everything. We know someone who works there, and hope he'll keep is job.

  6. theron would work as the wife. plus, i love her...she doesnt take on roles for the paychecks (kidman, watts, etc.) she really does do it to improve her craft and get better...im hoping to catch SLEEPWALKING, the film she produced and has a minor part in...

    i dont know who williams will be. i suspect he will be one of the monsters (i love mccarthy's work. but i have never felt that he was very POC friendly, etc. but that's just me) i would think he would have a meatier role. but, we'll find out when it comes out. it's shooting here in pittsburgh, or will be. so, if i find out where they are at, i'll get the 411 and report back to you! :)

    viggo: yea, he's good but so NOT on the level of a deniro, washington, or daniel day lewis...he just isnt. but, he is good at playing those "everyman" types that are popular in cinema these days. Josh Brolin is in a similar plane, but i feel that No Country For Old Men showed that he is very damn talented, but just wont ever get his due because he's not obviously matinee good looking or most of his work is so subtle that you miss that there's good acting there.

    haneke: yea, i think bassett would be an inspired choice...really she would be. but, i dont see ANYONE going there..especially not with bassett. im still not sure if i want to see the movie or not we'll see...

    bear stearns: it's bad and will get worse before it's all said and done.