Tuesday, August 07, 2007

"The Office" (Workstation series) 014 - Contrails edition

More Eric Lott today: hafta try to get through his text in order to continue work on the Fulbright application (which, with a Sept 1 deadline, is now hull-up on the horizon). Having a bit of that experience which I think others have when they read good Marxist critiques: the fundamental sanity of the economic and political analysis, which has been overshadowed by the incompleteness (and context-specific nature) of Marx's views on culture, and the criminal misapplications and fascist repression of his theories in realpolitik. Nobody's ever successfully erected a Marxist state--I'm not sure that Marx is best understood as a blueprint for a state. But as an analysis of how empire works (and let's remember that he was writing in Paris, Brussels, and London in the 1840s--the very heart of three oppressive colonial empires) he's unmatched.

Marx has been dreadfully discredited, as I say, by the criminal misapplications and appropriations of his analysis as doctrine--but also, I think, because the power elites who read at all know that his analysis is sufficiently accurate as to represent a threat. Marx understood how capitalism works, not only in terms of economics, but also in terms of cognition, culture, and the arts. I wouldn't want to live in any Marxist state that's ever existed and I wouldn't trust any politician who claimed to want to create one, but in order to understand how culture works under capitalism, I think he's a good tool.

Apropos that: Dharmonia and I, with a friend, saw Bourne Ultimatum last night. I'll confess to a bit of a guilty-pleasure attraction to the first film: not so much for the combat and "clicky-clicky" (e.g, voluptuous heavily-Foly-ed scenes of weapons being readied) but because Ludlum's basic premise (a more macho riff on the Manchurian Candidate trope) is a very effective narrative skeleton for an episodic thriller; because Damon--unlike many of his generation of Hollywood studs--can play tormented without preening; because, let's face it, an Irish kid from South Boston knows a lot fuckin' more about violence than some jumped-up MTV dancer or TV star; and because I've been a huge Franka Potente fan ever since Run Lola Run. Also because the first film, shot on location in Europe to save money, feels more like Europe: partly a result of the German female lead, but also the color palette, the fact that, in these films, the good guys walk and take public transit, and the overall feel of the street cultures depicted.

Though Supremacy (film II) got better press and reviews, I was not such a fan, with the exception of recognizing the great addition of Joan Allen's character. The basic premise of the Bourne films, which the critics are only really recognizing in this third film, has always been a subversive and oppositional one (and that connects back to Candidate): that your government lies to you. This premise immediately separates the Bourne series from many other "clicky-clicky" "guy" movies, which are much more likely to find the Enemy out there amongst the Brown People. This contemptible, essentially colonial and exploitative "Othering" finds its most egregious and blatant (and blatantly fascist) expression in the grotesque triumphalism of Tom Clancy's novelistic infomercials for American oligarchy, which have proven to be the final resting place of any artistic credibility Harrison Ford ever had.

But the Bourne films invert that equation: in this series, you know only that the "bad guys" are the ones who lied to you, who made you do things (or did things in your name) that you would never do otherwise, and who never, never pay for their crimes. Ultimatum, appropriately, goes much further in names and assigning blame: unlike the first film, in this third installment there's no ambiguity: Jason Bourne was recruited, brainwashed, and turned into a murderous machine by the CIA, and an NSA/CIA black-ops unit at the center of the US intelligence community, who are answerable to no-one, practice torture, "extraordinary rendition," "extreme prejudice" unchecked by either government oversight or the nationality of the targets, and so on.

There is no question that this film, in both screenplay and cinematography, is intended to be seen as commenting on the Bush White House: waterboarding, hooding, multiple visual allusions to Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, medical personnel as part of the torture apparatus, the ubiquity of data-mining and privacy-invasion in a CCTV-driven surveillance society, and even the internal revulsion expressed by some CIA personnel (the great Joan Allen again) at the depths to which the Agency has been made to sink. At one point in the film, David Strathairn's Cheneyesque Deputy Director even says, in the reply to the anguished question "How long does this [kind of abuse] go on?!?": "Until we've won."

Make no mistake about it: this is a film about the lies, oppression, high crimes and misdemeanors of the Bush/Blair regimes. As with V for Vendetta (a much-flawed comic book of a film, but one that raised justified paranoia about authoritarian government) I hope everybody in America sees it and that it makes 100's of millions. And I would love for some reporter to stand up in the Rose Garden and ask Junior if he's seen it.

[ETA: Stephanie Zacharek at Salon agrees.]


Contrails in the late summer sky

Now playing: Albert King - I'll Play The Blues For You

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