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Your humble narrator is...
...a research analyst at a think tank in the Washington DC area. Born in Israel, raised in Kentucky, movie fanatic and sports nut.
My first-hand account of the Palestinian divestment conference at the U. of Michigan
Archives

:: Friday, October 31, 2003 ::

Now this is a real movie review
Ha'aretz has a very interesting review article up about Kill Bill. It's much more enlightening to read this than Gregg Easterbrook's trite nonsense. I hadn't thought of this before, but did Easterbrook even see the movie?

Anyway, back to Uri Klein's Ha'aretz review. Here's his take on the extreme violence:
Yes, bodies and heads fly through the air in "Kill Bill." But the violence is so dense, so unreal, so artificial that it becomes something that transcends violence, because it does not demand a human response from the viewer. Therefore, at moments when the viewer gets the urge to cover his eyes with his hand or to turn away in fright, he feels somewhat ridiculous. He is aware that this is an instinctive reaction that will demonstrate his humanity and sensitivity, but the action is a bit grotesque, because in "Kill Bill," as in all of cinema, the violence is nothing but its non-dangerous and non-hurtful imitation. So, when the five-year-old daughter of Vivica Fox watches, expressionless, as Bride battles her mother - a battle whose deadly outcome is obvious from the outset - her expressionless reaction is indeed appalling, but it also represents the insensitivity of the film's viewers, even when they are seemingly brutally shocked.
The last part is a bit unclear about the fight scene with Vivica Fox's character--her daughter witnesses the result of the fight, but not the fight itself. Klein's point about the violence is well-made. If one thinks that violence which is purely cinematic (or cartoonish, if you want to be more critical) can have a negative effect on society, OK, that's subject to debate. But don't pretend that it's something it isn't.

I don't quite get the gist of this argument:
The sense of depression that arises from "Kill Bill," as from [Tarantino's] previous three films, stems from the viewer's feeling that the characters in Tarantino's films die the moment they are seen on the screen; they die from the very fact of being heroes of a film, part of what is sucked immediately into the great sea that is popular culture. As a result they are all - always - ghosts. They are zombies...

The past few years have seen the release of a large number of films that tell the stories of characters that find themselves trapped in the invented and imagined world of popular culture. Most of these films, such as "The Truman Show" by Peter Weir, or "Mulholland Drive" by David Lynch, created a certain dialogue between what is perceived as the reality in those films and the popular culture that represented that reality.

In "Kill Bill," there is only the popular culture: It is the sole reality to which the film is connected and it represents only itself. It thereby becomes the contemporary capitalist essence in its cruelest character, feeding on itself and serving only itself. And because there is no reality in "Kill Bill," Tarantino himself is trapped in the popular culture that the film represents, and he is the zombie, no less than all the characters that appear in the film. That's the reason for the feeling of depression, even despair, which emanates from the film.

"Kill Bill" seems to be saying that Tarantino has cut himself off from life and has become embedded in the pop culture that he and the film have become part of. Something like a cry for help emerges from the film, which is exciting and touching, sweeping and depressing, rich but also as empty as nullity itself.
Not sure I agree with the description of Tarantino's characters as ghosts, or zombies, "part of what is sucked immediately into the great sea that is popular culture." That's not my reaction when I see Pam Grier as Jackie Brown, Harvey Keitel as Mr. White, or Steve Buscemi as Mr. Pink, just to name a few characters from his movies. They feel to me like real people (real hardened criminals, in the latter two cases) dealing with real problems from their own particular perspectives. Kill Bill is more frivolous on some levels than his earlier movies, but as for the point about Mulholland Drive, I guess I had a different reaction, as I thought that movie was even more involved in its own bizarre little world than Kill Bill is (though I did enjoy Mulholland Drive, albeit not the strange last 1/3 or 1/4 when it seemed to turn into a different movie).

More broadly speaking, haven't there been lots of successful movies over the years that seem "trapped in the popular culture that the film represents," without necessarily invoking the depressing feeling that Klein gets from this movie? The best ones usually manage to transcend any boundaries of that sort, but how can anyone think of the best Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musicals in any way separate from US popular culture in the '30s, or of Sunset Boulevard as being immersed in anything but the Hollywood culture of the late '40s/early '50s? Yet those movies are still highly regarded today, and probably always will be, without any of the bleak undertones that Klein associates with Kill Bill. A more appropriate example, in terms of the martial arts/violence/revenge aspects of Kill Bill, is Enter The Dragon. Nobody will ever mistake it as being rooted anywhere else except in the specific movie culture of the early '70s, and yet I think it's a tremendously successful and worthwhile movie. Klein seems to think that Kill Bill is pretty good, too, but I don't really see where his argument on this point is going. But the review is definitely worth reading.
3:49 PM
:: Wednesday, October 29, 2003 ::
Why does anyone still believe this?
I thought the bit about Iraqi WMD having been smuggled into Syria just before the war was no longer being peddled by anyone. I thought wrong, according to the NY Times:
The director of a top American spy agency said Tuesday that he believed that material from Iraq's illicit weapons program had been transported into Syria and perhaps other countries as part of an effort by the Iraqis to disperse and destroy evidence immediately before the recent war.

The official, James R. Clapper Jr., a retired lieutenant general, said satellite imagery showing a heavy flow of traffic from Iraq into Syria, just before the American invasion in March, led him to believe that illicit weapons material "unquestionably" had been moved out of Iraq.

"I think people below the Saddam Hussein-and-his-sons level saw what was coming and decided the best thing to do was to destroy and disperse," General Clapper, who leads the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, said at a breakfast with reporters.
I defer again to Zbigniew Brzezinski from an appearance on CNN in July of this year:
Well, it's clear that [the Iraqis] weren't armed with these weapons. They didn't use them. We defeated their army in the field. We have control over their arsenals. We haven't found them.

We're now maintaining that they may be hidden somewhere, which is kind of comical, actually. If they had them, and the were armed to the teeth with them, why didn't they use them? If they didn't use them and hid them, that means they were deterred. And how do you hide all of these hundreds and hundreds of thousands of weapons with which they're armed? ...

Here is an argument: A country is armed to the teeth. It poses a monumental threat to us. We go to war, we destroy its army, it never uses these weapons, we cannot find them in their arsenals. And now we claim that they may be hidden somewhere or exported somewhere. I mean, that really strains credulity...

[I]t tells you something about our intelligence if Iraq allegedly had all of these weapons, was so well armed, and then could destroy them without us even knowing about it. I mean, I think that's kind of a preposterous argument.
Again, to lay out the argument that this General Clapper appears to be making: the pre-war intelligence that the administration claimed to have, rock-solid knowledge that Saddam possessed and was manufacturing large quantities of WMD, was correct. Then we went to war, toppled the regime, and announced with full confidence that we would find the WMD--while apparently ignoring this incredibly damning satellite imagery of WMD material being moved into Syria, which either (a) happened without the administration knowing about it or (b) happened with their full knowledge, but with no action whatsoever taken to hold the Syrians accountable for it. All this from an administration that (a) showed a willingness to make all sorts of claims about Iraqi WMD activities, regardless of how much actual evidence they had for them, and (b) has an announced policy of "pre-emption" where any other regime that behaves the same way will meet the same fate. This is not exactly a convincing scenario.
2:57 PM
:: Monday, October 27, 2003 ::
A weird little discovery
I mentioned the Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii DVD a few posts down. When I looked through the extra features, I found something quite surprising. One section has images of some old album covers, some bootleg covers, as well as press coverage and posters from the movie's original release (nothing surprising yet). There are only three posters shown, two of them in English, and (surprise!) the other one in Hebrew! I needed my dictionary to translate it, as my Hebrew isn't very good, but hey, maybe some Floyd fan at some point will Google this, so here goes, an English translation for the Hebrew poster on the Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii DVD. Since there's no upper or lower case in Hebrew, I used all caps for the biggest words:
The most famous band in the world

PINK FLOYD

IN POMPEII

Among the songs in the movie:

"Careful With That Axe Eugene"

"Saucerful of Secrets"

"Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun" and more... and more...
In the lower left, it says "In Color," and then what I think is "Gelfand Films," which must have been the name of the movie's distributor in Israel.
6:19 PM
:: Sunday, October 26, 2003 ::
Congratulations Marlins!
Anyone who beats the Yankees has my gratitude. Special congrats to the remarkable Josh Beckett, throwing a complete-game shutout World Series clinching win in Yankee Stadium, and on three days' rest.
1:29 AM

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