“Elle”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

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Over the last 20 years Paul Verhoeven has displayed a fascination for put-through-the-wringer women. He likes their defiant glamour and their steadfastness in the face of chaos. In “Showgirls,” “Black Book,” and now “Elle” one has the sense he’s using them as lightning rods for his roiling artistic impulses, impulses that might cause his movies to atomize absent the repositories represented by his heroines. Like the authors of romance fiction and Brian De Palma, Verhoeven knows that women are richest in extremis, that their complexities are best revealed through trauma. It’s not mere sensation he’s after; he’s working towards something more elemental. Where “Showgirls” was consciously trashy, a travesty of a travesty, and “Black Book” was chic in the classic Hollywood manner, “Elle” has the austerity and distance of an art film (its tone is reminiscent of the work of Catherine Breillat or Olivier Assayas). It’s the most composed thing Verhoeven has done, a fact which may account for its positive reception.

How else to explain such a reception? Many of those who normally dismiss Verhoeven’s work as grotesque or crude have praised “Elle” as one of the best movies of 2016. Perhaps the commentators haven’t noticed that Verhoeven and lead actress Isabelle Huppert have done everything in their power to offend them. Though “Elle” is dressed up as a thriller, its motives are those of a woman’s picture — it’s closer to “Stella Dallas” than “Psycho.” The whodunit that runs through the narrative is interesting, but it’s merely a form on which Verhoeven and screenwriter David Birke (adapting a novel by Philippe Dijan) hang a melodramatic essay on the topics of sex, violence, and relationships. Possibly it’s this decentralized approach that throws the trigger brigade for a loop. They can’t determine what the movie is about, so they fall back on appreciating its poise and Huppert’s courageous performance. But though Verhoeven is drawn to satire, he’s not a political filmmaker; his movies don’t make simplistic points. And I think the suggestiveness of “Elle” constitutes its own form of content. Its unresolvedness is in the service of a vision.

Huppert’s Michele Leblanc heads a company that produces video games. She’s the modern independent woman, the woman who imagines that she reorders civilization through her actions — or perhaps her very being. The atraditional city of the 21st Century is an environment in which such a woman thrives, but her standing is without roots. This is especially true of Michele: At an early age her place in traditional society was obliterated by her father, whose serial murders, in which he involved Michele, made pariahs of his family. The specter of paternal violence hangs over Michele; sometimes if even seems to animate her. Random Parisians insult her upon recognizing her, her marriage foundered in the wake of a spat that turned physical, and her sexual proclivities tend toward the rough — even the games she produces have violent sexual overtones. When Michele’s mother (a very amusing Judith Magre) suggests that the crimes of Michele’s father are responsible for the entropy that has overtaken her life, Verhoeven immediately cuts to a bloody sequence in which Michele fantasizes about brutally smashing the skull of an attacker. It’s the one moment in the picture in which she’s able to step fully outside of her victimization.

Verhoeven does all he can to foreground both Michele’s persecution and her masterful negotiation of it. The movie opens with a shocking scene in which she is raped on the floor of her living room, after which she calmly proceeds with the rest of her day. There’s defiance in this, but also a kind of participation. As Michele ponders the identify of her masked attacker, and Verhoeven and Birke tease us with possibilities, one gets the sense she’s not investigating the crime so much as flirting with it. There’s no shortage of suspects: Nearly all the men in Michele’s life are connected to her through sex, and the one who isn’t — a neighbor who is a practicing Catholic — is the object of her amorous machinations. (In one of the movie’s most suggestive scenes, she vigorously masturbates while watching him and his wife install a nativity scene in their front yard.) Even the character of Michele’s son, Vincent, is loaded with Oedipal suggestiveness. As mothers will, Michele projects her desires onto Vincent’s spoiled girlfriend, and she’s disturbed more by her jealousy than her dissatisfaction. Her genes are jealous too: She’s painfully aware that Vincent has been cuckolded.

The relentless focus on sex, violence, family, and heredity makes “Elle” feel something like Greek theater — more Euripides than Eszterhas. Huppert’s performance, at turns grave and coquettish, is certainly the stuff of great drama. Her composure is almost flamboyant in its delicacy; there’s never a moment when you’re not fully aware of the extent to which her resolve is an outgrowth of a quivering vulnerability. And it’s something of a miracle that she’s able to project her analytical qualities onto the material, to make the movie feel as though it’s poring over itself, rearranging its shards to proffer new meanings, new suggestions.

Verhoeven declines to dramatize any particular suggestion at the expense of another. He’s more interested in the way Michele assimilates all of them while maintaining the face she displays to the world. Ultimately, the movie asks: What strange amalgams are we? To what extent is civilization a front for our most primal impulses? Michele, particularly in the movie’s quiet moments, when she’s comforting an injured bird or fixing a cup of tea, seems absorbed by these very questions.

Posted in Movies, Performers | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Happy Valentine’s Day

Blowhard, Esq. writes:

shvd

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Architecture and Color

Paleo Retiree writes:

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What Bannon Reads

Fenster writes:

Here is an interesting read about what Steve Bannon reads, and what may be on his mind.

One of his favorite books is The Fourth Turning.  I was fascinated by the book when it came out in the nineties.  The authors posit a generational theory of history.  They describe American history in terms of twenty year “turnings” that have a predictable rhythm and structure.  Four of them over around 80-100 years (having to do with generations) and then back round again.  Under the theory, the fourth turning, due around now, will be a real doozy–a meltdown like the Civil War and Great Depression and World War 2.

These fourth ones tend to end badly and so it is of note that a senior presidential counselor is thinking that we are headed toward tougher times.  Should presidential counselors be thinking about inevitable historical cycles even if they are true?  Does that make them agents of alleged inevitability, captive of their thoughts? Or might it allow the cycles to be better managed?  Dunno.  But take a look: the authors still have a website that presents the basics.

Then there’s the neoreactionary thinker Mencius Moldbug (Curtis Yarvin).  I have some Zelig history here too.  Moldbug did some of his first writing as a commenter at the 2Blowhards website where I was a contributor for a time.  Here is the site’s ringmaster, Michael Blowhard, on Mencius, his commenting, and his thinking as of 2007. As you may know, M. Blowhard is better known in these parts as Paleo Retiree.

I do not share Moldbug’s anti-democratic sentiments but have come to have sympathy with some of his critique of our current system–mainly that what he calls The Cathedral (the mainstream press, academia, financial elites) pretty much call the shots and do a good job of keeping the herd in line with a constant diet of approved opinions, and by keeping the Overton Window good and shut.

Moldbug stopped writing at his own blog awhile back but it is still up.  He is way too verbose, much more than me, and he is a dense writer when I think I strive for clarity.  So the blog can be hard to follow.  Here is a good short guide to Moldbug and reactionary political theory.  I am interested that Bannon likes The Fourth Turning but worry more if he is leaning on Moldbug rather than just reading him.

For the record, as time goes by I find myself more and more of a small-r republican, meaning someone in favor of the republic as envisioned by Madison, Hamilton and the others, and that Franklin joked that we might not be able to keep.

I see Franklin’s point that republics are fragile and that their success is not simply a question of law and structure but that they depend on the character of the people that comprise them.  And that we may have already blown it with too much diversity, growth in bad character traits not helpful to republican habits and elite self-serving behavior.  That may all lead to authoritarianism irrespective of what your opinion on the matter might be.  We might have already gone past the point of where decent self-government of the type I intellectually favor is possible.  In that case events are likely to take a . . . turn.

Which brings us to the article’s discussion of Michael Anton, the guy who penned a very well-read article on just this point during the election under the pseudonym Publius Decius Mus, or just Decius to his friends.  If you haven’t read it you should.  It is an amazing read whether you agree with its dark conclusions or not.  He is a gifted writer and thinker.  Here’s The Flight 93 Election.

Bannon not only read Decius; on the suggestion of Peter Thiel he was brought into the White House where he is on the foreign policy staff.  So with Decius the influence on Bannon has gone past a general interest piqued by inquiry. It is worth noting here, and possibly a good thing, that for all of the darkness in Decius’s piece he has not concluded that we have gone too far to reclaim a semblance of republican government. Sometimes optimism is best viewed through the prism of pessimism and perhaps Bannon is thinking this way too.

And on the question of republics being fragile, I see Bannon is also reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the guy who pushed the notion that institutions need to be “anti-fragile”.  I haven’t read Taleb’s books but I have read about his thinking from articles and interviews.  He seems an insufferable know-it-all but there is a lot to his concept of antifragility. It is encouraging that a presidential counselor would carry the concept of antifragility around in his head. It is a better general purpose tool than invade-the-world-invite-the-world.

So Bannon is an interesting dude for sure.  I don’t buy that he is an evil Nazi or anti-Semite by any means.  In a sense I think the Cathedral is out to get Trump, and Bannon is in the crosshairs since he is thinking disturbing thoughts.  Some of what he is reading is troubling since I am not in favor of neoreaction.  And I worry when any political leader concludes that we are pawns in a game of historical inevitability, and that the drama is imminent.  Apocalypse Soon.

On the other hand, he is a voracious reader and who is to say that he subscribes to all of the views noted here?  The Cathedral has an interest in making him seem dangerous after all.

One way or another it is always possible that we are in fact at a historical hinge point.  They do happen every now and again.

nb.  If this guy is right Bannon is no populist and we are all useful idiots.

And here is Bannon’s documentary Generation Zero that relies on Fourth Turning thinking.

Posted in Politics and Economics | Tagged | 8 Comments

Naked Lady of the Week: Jordan Capri

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

jc-cover

We featured Tawnee Stone a few weeks ago, so now I suppose we’re obliged to feature Jordan Capri. Like Tawnee, Jordan was a fictional character, a creation of the geniuses behind the Lightspeed network of porn sites.

Spanish Wikipedia claims she was introduced as Tawnee’s best friend, causing me to wonder if Lightspeed ever contrived WWE-style storylines in which the pair engaged in feuds and then made up by having pillow fights and enthusiastically exploring their sexuality.

As a model Jordan was considerably more vivacious than Tawnee — her personality was as beguiling as her tight little gymnast’s bod. (Okay, nearly as beguiling.) On Peachy Forum, where Jordan seems to have engaged in conversations with her fans, she responded to a question by writing:

I don’t feel my “success was entirely down to you getting naked all the time”  Some people may disagree, but I don’t care.  I think I’m a freakin’ HAM for the camera and let my true personality shine through on ALMOST (i stress ALMOST) everything I did for [Lightspeed]…which is what made me so popular.

Can’t argue with that.

She claims to have been the second most popular amateur model on the internet for a time. Was that second to Tawnee? Do you suppose they had a rivalry? I hope so. That’s kind of hot, right?

Apparently, she blogged on My Space for a while, got married, quit the biz, came back, did hardcore, quit again, and — err — went to jail? I’m going to stop Googling before I’m too far down the rabbit hole to find my way out.

Her real name is supposedly Lori.

Let’s hope Lori is a free woman and enjoying her 30s. She brought a lot of joy to a lot of people.

Continue reading

Posted in Photography, Sex, The Good Life | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

It Takes Two Sides to Make a Bell Curve

Fenster writes:

There’s an extraordinary amount of talk going around about the alt-right.  But who are those guys?

who-are

Language is a tool for unclarity even in the best of circumstances and things get even dicier when the phenomenon to be considered (in this case, the alt-right) is fluid and uncertain.  Things get worse when language users have an agenda, and positively value the unclarity that language can bring.  So this will be an exercise in the rectification of names.

Consider a bell curve of political views on the alt-right. No, for this discussion let’s bear down on just one issue that the alt-right is concerned with: race.  There are others (immigration for one).  But for now let’s consider race.

At the far right edge we find the most extreme views.  From what I can tell the numbers here are small, though they grow as you get closer to the middle.

From the edges in we find:

1. White supremacy. That’s the Nazi-like view that not only are whites superior to other races they must also have the power to keep other races down if not out.

2. White nationalism. Nationalists do not assert superiority but their view of “race realism” compels them to conclude that the races will never get along well. And since whites ought to have the same rights as other ethnic groups to self-segregate whites should favor a formal political affiliation, one that is separate racially but that is not bound to assert superiority and to promote associated objectionable measures.

3. White identity. As with #2 race realism compels a kind of self-segregation but of a softer sort.  A separate political structure is not required. Under this view whites should feel free to voluntarily self-segregate as other groups do without fear of social approbation or the heavy hand of government requiring integration at every turn.

4. “Citizenism”. This is more or less nationalism, without most of the blood in blood and soil. A diverse nation is accepted as a fact but one can be skeptical about more difference always being better. The “historic nation” is respected but less out of white pride than a belief that most of the “proposition” in the term “Proposition Nation” derives from Western European ideas, and we risk losing the powerful thread of those ideas when we celebrate difference as a god thing in itself. Where race is concerned BLM and other movements are disfavored but not because of notions of white superiority. Rather the argument is that identity politics as practiced is ultimately divisive and does not support development of a coherent national sentiment, one that is based on the historically and geographically contingent ideas that inform the “proposition”.

It also needs to be noted that the bell curve continues on to the left, with most on the left closer to the center.  Those nearer the center on the left can be thought of as close cousins to non-extremist citizenists–though the center left for the moment is not co-mingling very well with the center right.  And as with the right side so with the left: one finds more extreme views (and fewer numbers) the further one progresses in a progressive direction.

Both sides of the center of the bell curve have things in common.  And that’s where the people, and the votes, are.  But when there’s a war on, each core gives credence and voice to more extreme parts of their own side of the bell curve.  They think that is fine to do so with their own extremes but get very upset when they see the other side doing the same thing. 

Moderate or liberal Democrats think it is fine to give up their microphone to members of BLM who take over the stage, and are often loath to condemn rioting if it is for a good (i.e., progressive) cause. 

The alt-Right has the same tendencies, with the recent National Policy Institute Conference in Washington providing a good example.  Richard Spencer, a white nationalist (#2 above), tried for some of the time to dominate the proceedings, appearing to speak on behalf of people like Jared Taylor, a white identitarian (#3) and Peter Brimelow, a citizenist (#4).  Those closer to the center did not want to disavow those closer to the edge since the idea of the conference was to look for things in common and to work towards a kind of coalition.  But there were no disavowals of white nationalism, just as there are no disavowals of the left fringes by elements closer to the center.  

In this way, the edges have more visibility than their actual numbers warrant, and each side gets to score hate points against the other by lumping center and fringe together.  

The system cannot help but create a gap where there should be co-mingling: right in the center of things. Each side feels confident that is has “the people” with it and since the extremes on each side are emboldened neither side is interested in re-occupying the middle.  But nature abhors a vacuum.

If Trump was brilliant about anything in this election it was letting his business instincts loose in a vortex of political action that can only think politically, and that can’t help but make mistakes along a political dimension.  Politicians instinctively think: how can my side gain tactical advantage? Businessmen instinctively think: buy low sell high!  Look for the undervalued stock, the arbitrage opportunity, the vacuum that nature abhors but that the shortsighted  cannot see.

In this election the vacuum to be filled consisted of all of the constituencies that the parties had stranded for their own political reasons and all of the voices that were choked off and strangled as a result.  Trump won with that key business insight.  But now we are in a new world, one that Trump helped create by capitalizing on his buy low sell high insight.

Where is the new gap, the new vacuum, the new buy low sell high?  It is at the interface of the two center parts of the bell curve, still a no-man’s land but destined for a gold rush some time soon.  Whoever fills that space wins the next election.

tulsi-gabbard-promoted-major   ?

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Quote Du Jour: James M. Cain on Titles

Blowhard, Esq. writes:

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James M. Cain had wanted to call his first novel “Bar-B-Que.” Alfred Knopf quite rightly thought that was a terrible title. Cain suggested “Black Puma” or “The Devil’s Checkbook.” The publisher disliked those, too, and proposed calling it “For Love or Money.” Then Cain thought of a title he really liked: “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” Knopf said he still preferred “For Love or Money.” Cain got angry. “There is only one rule I know on a title,” he wrote Knopf. “It must sound like the author and not like some sure-fire product of the title factory.” He suggested that “For Love or Money” might do very well for a musical comedy or a movie, or just about anything. He went on to name more all-purpose titles that sounded typical of the title factory, like “Hold Everything” or “Hell and High Water.” Knopf knew when to retreat.

City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940’s by Otto Friedrich

Posted in Books Publishing and Writing, Movies | Tagged , | 1 Comment