When you're about to make a trip to an exotic place that you’ve never been to before, your mind is spellbound and lays out a scenario that's a little bit like a fairytale. Then when you arrive at that place, the mind quickly encapsulates it and creates an indelible imprint, a roadmap made up of familiar associations from your own past. That’s a little bit what the experience of seeing Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty is like. Hannah Arendt famously coined the term the “banality of evil,” in her classic Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Zero Dark Thirty is the banality of good and evil. One can’t help comparing Zero Dark Thirty to classics of political cinema like Z, The Conformist or the film whose cinema verite style it most imitates, The Battle of Algiers, but Zero Dark Thirty falls neither into the categories of fiction like The Conformist, nor cinema verite (which uses non actors to enhance reality) like Battle of Algiers nor obviously, on the other end of the spectrum, documentary--though both its heroine, Maya’s (Jessica Chastain), unshakeable faith in her mission does recall the role Jodie Foster played in Contact, while curiously the analysis of photos recalls another cinema classic about discovering a murderer in a haystack, Antonioni’s Blow-Up. Still there are two looming issues at the center of the controversy around the film: the morality of using torture and its efficacy. A third issue relates to the whether the filmmakers did enough due diligence in description of techniques like waterboarding. Was it a cup of water or a jug of water that was used? To recall another film classic, Zero Dark Thirty is Dirty Harry on the stage of world history. When does the punishment fit the crime? When do the means justify the ends? Osama Bin Laden was killed and the order came right from the top. But are we ever justified in abrogating human rights? While Zero Dark Thirty isn’t journalism, it’s an odd hybrid of fact and fiction that succeeds in creating the feeling of what it might like to enter the world that we read about in the headlines. The figures are not larger than life. They do heroic things without seeming likes heroes and when the helicopters drop down into the compound to execute a piece of history, you feel like you're there and just like the soldiers on screen, just want to get out alive.
Thursday, January 31, 2013
|Photo: Presidenza della Repubblica Italiana|
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
|Photo of Susan Jacoby by B.D. Engler|
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
|photo: George Biard|
Is Woody Allen, Moliere’s Malade imaginaire? Moliere, who was the greatest comic genius of all time, probably could never have thought up a character like Woody Allen. In a Times op-ed piece (“Hypochondria: An Inside Look,” NYT, 1/12/13) Allen, however, attempts to debunk his reputation for being a hypochondriac on the basis that his “maladies are real.” “What distinguishes my hysteria is that at the appearance of the mildest symptom, say chapped lips, I instantly leap to the conclusion that the chapped lips indicate a brain tumor. In once instance I though it was Mad Cow.” Allen terms himself an “alarmist" and further comments that “incidentally this relentless preoccupation with health has made me quite the amateur medical expert.” What has always made Allen’s humor so forceful is that he does for urban neurotics what Chekhov did for the penurious rural aristocracy who could only dream of going to Moscow. Allen’s image of himself is something we recognize in friends and relatives who spend a little too much time on WebMD, who seek out specialists the way the Knights of the Round Table sought The Holy Grail and who parentalize anyone with an MD. But the dichotomy Allen tries to draw is really more of a euphemism. An alarmist of the kind Allen describes is a hypochondriac albeit of a less egregious kind, if we accept Dictionary.com’s definition of hypochondria as “an excessive preoccupation with and worry about one’s health” Call it what you will, what alarmists and hypochondriacs really have in common is hope. They are like romantics who are more in love with what isn’t than what is. It might be argued that the hypochondriac’s worst fear is not detecting a symptom, but having it explained away as something harmless. At this point, the drama is gone. There is nothing to look forward to. All he or she can hope for is a new symptom to arise. To Moscow!
Monday, January 28, 2013
We had Gogol’s The Overcoat and now we have Can Themba, Mothobi Mutloatse and Barney’s Simon’s The Suit, directed by Peter Brook, Marie-Helene Estienne and Franck Krawczyk at BAM. The comparisons are hard to ignore. In the classic Gogol short story a civil servant named Akaky Akakievich has his hard won overcoat stolen. In the current production, The Suit is the iconic object and its fate is personification. Philemon (William Nadylam), a South African lawyer in Sophiatown outside of Johannesberg, can neither forget nor forgive after he learns of his wife Matlida’s (Nonhlanhla Kheswa) infidelity and the suit, left behind in haste, becomes a permanent if unwanted member of the household— Matilda's Scarlet Letter. Philemon also recalls Orpheus since he loses his love when he can’t help looking back--in this case at her deed. The Suit is a chamber musical, a piece of folk theater that relates a parable about lovers who become emblematic figures, their individual fates mirroring the condition of blacks in South Africa during Apartheid. Philemon is content with the existence he leads and yet Matilda is not willing to accept and her tragedy is the fate of the dreamer who's unwilling to accept her present world. The oddity of the play and the current production is the equation of sexual and political liberation. Is Matilda’s punishment tantamount to political repression? Adultery may be the expression of the desire for a better life, but it’s unwieldy when it becomes a symbol for the kind of freedom the play alludes to.