Friday, December 4, 2009

Notes on the Way

The Ampatuan Massacre

What is being called in the Philippines the Ampatuan Massacre, in which 57 people in the southern province of Maguindanao were taken by gunmen to a secluded spot where a backhoe had already prepared a deep pit for their interment, and were summarily executed, continues to inspire expressions of rage and revulsion locally and internationally. The provincial governor/warlord of the province, who is holed up in his mansion, offered up his son as a scapegoat to the "authorities" and he has since been charged with multiple counts of murder. He is claiming his innocence and is sticking with his story that members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front did it.

Never mind that terrorists, no strangers to brutality, are being blamed for all manner of brutal acts perpetrated by elected officials all over the world, what I found most disturbing about the Maguindanao murders is that they appear to have been carried out with some confidence that its perpetrators would get away with it. That the men who paid for the hired guns might yet get away scot-free will not, of course, spare them the judgement of those - everyone, that is - who know exactly who did it. The scene of the massacre has been shown on the local news incessantly, with many shots that would not be shown in international broadcasts. But the scenes reminded me of similar scenes of mass execution, similar pits that had been dug, often by the victims themselves, when Nazi SS death squads dispatched thousands of enemies of the Reich, most of them Jews, during the German invasions of Eastern Europe and Russia. That the Germans sometimes filmed these executions quite openly revealed not only the degree of their barbarity but their complete confidence in the victory of the Reich and the vindication of their acts. I would not be surprised if someone shot video of the Ampatuan massacre.


I wonder if there was anyone who was surprised when it was discovered that Saddam Hussein's great hero was Joseph Stalin. The two men even looked alike. Even if Philippine president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo looks nothing like Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, I would not be surprised to learn that he is PGMA's hero. Not only has the diminutive president, who perhaps has a Napoleon Complex, been accused, like Putin, of election fraud and the murders of numerous journalists - what are called extra-judicial murders hereabouts - she is rumored to be plotting a change of the Philippine constitutional charter in order to create the office of prime minister. When Putin's term as Russian president ran out, he engineered a change in Russian govermental structure, creating the office of Prime Minister. The Philippine president has a flinty reputation for never responding to her critics and when asked by the press what her intentions are after her presidential term ends next year either ignores the question or treats it as a joke. Instead she has announced her candidacy for a congressional seat, becoming the first sitting president (presumably a full-time job) to do so. Perhaps when her party, which holds a majority of those seats, votes to transform the Congress into a Parliament and elects Arroyo the Philippines' first Prime Minister, the extra-judicial murders will become just plain judicial ones, and the Philippines will become what it has sometimes only seemed to be in the past, a hooligan state like Burma and North Korea.

15 Minutes

The infamous couple causing a stir in the States over their alleged "crashing" of a White House state dinner gave further credence to Andy Warhol's quote, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." Warhol made the statement, which is typical of his offhand stabs at profundity, at an exhibition in Stockholm in 1968. What nobody remembers is that Warhol was seriously wounded on June 3rd of that same year when a former member of his "factory" shot him. Warhol, who was more than a little reclusive to begin with, withdrew further into the background, enduring health problems for the rest of his life. Warhol learned, and so will the Salahis, that there is a price for fame.

Films Into Movies

Alot of people are commending Quentin Tarantino for dispensing, in his latest film Inglourious Basterds, with the convention of having everyone in the film speak English when they should be speaking German or French. This dubious practice is as old as the sound film, when Hollywood had to find a way to portray foreign-speaking characters to an exclusively English-speaking audience. If they had the misfortune of having thick accents, many excellent foreign actors were relegated to bad guy roles in Hollywood films for decades. When America was at war with Germany and Japan, German and Japanese actors were either employed as villains or otherwise unemployed.

But the practice of having everyone speak English is not so dubious when you recall that Shakespeare had his Greeks and Romans and Italians and Danes speaking in English blank verse. And never mind that there is a whole world of film, unknown to Tarantino fans, in which people speak no English at all. Come to think of it, I recently watched the animated film Kung Fu Panda, in which all manner of animals were speaking English. Perhaps Tarantino might have had them make animal noises, with accompanying English subtitles?

But the very title of Tarantino's film reveals what little confidence he has in his own language. At the film's premiere in Cannes, he told a press conference, "I’m never going to explain that. When you do an artistic flourish like that, to describe it, to explain it, would just...invalidate the whole stroke in the first place."

Tarantino's film was loosely based on a 1978 schlock spaghetti action film called Quel Maledetto Treno Blindato, or The Inglorious Bastards in the States. It was a rip-off of The Dirty Dozen. Speaking of rip-offs, I have seen news reports of two films in current release, Jim Sheridan's Brothers, and Bob Marshall's Nine. Neither report made mention of the fact that Sheridan's film was derived almost bodily from Susanne Brier's superb Danish film Brødre (2004), and that the Marshall film was ultimately inspired by Federico Fellini's 8 1/2 (1963). Granted, the Marshall musical is directly derived from the Broadway musical Nine, but while there may be no honor among thieves, liabilities should be sufficient to keep Hollywood honest. The Marshall film features 75-year-old Sophia Loren, who never appeared in a Fellini film, but the script credits make no mention of Fellini, or Fellini's co-writers Flaiano, Pinelli, or Rondi. What with its theft of other people's good ideas, and its expectation that nobody will notice, Hollywood is apparently still committed to the maxim, "Nothing alien is human to me."

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