Black Sabbath: prophets

It is impossible to understate the prescience of Black Sabbath:

War Pigs: not only the greatest anti-war song of all time, but also a lacerating indictment of the immorality and cowardice of political leadership, and of the exploitation of common people.

Cornucopia: hints at themes explored by Guy Debord. Fundamentally concerned with the human condition in advanced Capitalist western society, and the profound alienation of the individual.

Wicked World: the title speaks a bit for itself; precedes and sketches out themes expanded in War Pigs. Trenchant critique of the hypocrisies of late-Capitalist western society. Describes the healthcare crisis, and portrays the breakdown of the family under income inequality and lack of opportunity. Never so relevant as today.

Iron Man: foretells a post-apocalyptic future, with a dash of sci-fi imagination.

Paranoid: stark portrait of mental illness and the hopelessness experienced by some of the millions of people who suffer from it. Speaks of alienation. Makes perfect sense in an era of rampant opioid abuse.

Supernaut: an ecstatic outlier, imagining a kind of übermensch, and freedom from bourgeois constraint. Bohemian, perhaps. An underrated song in the pantheon. One of my favorites.

Sweet Leaf: accurately predicts the social acceptance and legalization of weed.

Snowblind: another paean to drugs. Fundamentally about escape, the will to transcendence, and the individual’s quest for freedom from judgement. Underlying connections to Supernaut.

Fairies wear Boots: more drugs. The final verse is one of the best twists in any pop song. You think you’re in the land of Led Zeppelin, and hobbits and elves and vikings and shit, and lo, no! The whole thing’s a hallucination. The doctor’s basically saying stop taking drugs or you’ll die. Probably an actual transcription of a conversation between Ozzy and a doctor.

Children of the Grave: huge, HUGE portent. Harrowingly, urgently relevant. Foretells with terrible solemnity the climate crisis and the foreclosure of life for our children, and their children…if they get that far.

Geezer Butler is a genius.

Pather Panchali — as a parent

I posted this in the Criterion Channel FB Group, but I’ll share it here, in the off chance a couple of my more film-inclined friends might appreciate it.

To praise this film is wholly unoriginal, but after rewatching it last weekend with my 11 year old son, for the first time since before he was born, I cannot overstate my awe of the poetry and grace of this film.

I have little doubt that my feelings for it have only been enhanced by having become a father.

I have been utterly inhabited by it for the last three or four days. I cannot stop feeling its echoes.

If you’ve not watched it in a while, I would urge you to revisit it. If you’ve never seen it, it’s mandatory viewing.

Buy the trilogy in the Criterion flash sale today in fact.

And do please listen to Ray’s 15 minute narration of the making of the film included in one of the extra features, recorded a few years later. It’s riveting.

I will expand on my post to include a further appreciation of my son’s curiosity, patience, willingness to explore, and trust in me to guide him on a rewarding journey through cinema. It’s a big part of our life together. We watch a lot of movies, and we do a lot of learning together, and we thrill to how these wonderful films illuminate life, experience, and point towards truths not always easily grasped. I love introducing him to all of these films that have been close to my heart for most of my life, and re-watching them with him. There is always something new to discover and learn and feel, and with a film like Pather Panchali in particular, experiencing that with him as a father now is a whole new gift.

It wasn’t the easiest film for him, but he stayed with it.

It thrills me that he will give so many beautiful works of art a chance. Many of them have become favorites of his: he has Seven Samurai and Stalag 17 and Yojimbo and Sanjuro and The Three Musketeers (Richard Lester version) permanently downloaded on his pad so he can check in with them if we’re on a long drive camping. He can recite lines from these movies. He figured out the themes to some of the Kurosawa and Sergio Leone films on the piano, for both hands. We will whistle them together while we’re driving, or out and about.
More than that, it’s when he trusts me to watch films by directors like Renoir, Bresson, Varda, S. Ray, Charles Burnett, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Chaplin, Souleymane Cissé, or Kelly Reichardt, Herzog, Melville, even bits of Derek Jarman, in languages as diverse as Bengali, Bambara, Fula, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese, Cantonese, that I feel especially grateful in ways I couldn’t have anticipated.

I would also add that watching movies like some of these can be a truly outstanding way to enter in to fruitful conversations about difficult subjects–history, racism, colonialism, anti-Semitism, fascism, war, genocide, etc. There’s nothing in The Great Dictator a kid can’t see, but in its satirical, humorous way, the film gets to the heart of the horror of Germany in the 1930s, and provides many openings for discussion. We’ve watched it three times, and after the first time, stopped at various points in the film to talk about what’s going on. Same with Aguirre, Wrath of God, which felt terribly relevant after introducing Kiowa to South America this summer, as while we were there, we did not in any way avoid conversations about colonialism, the genocide and exploitation of native people, as well as the complexities of inter-tribal colonialism and conquest (from the perspective of other peoples in the Andes, the Incas were nearly as much an invading, occupying power as the Spanish). To an extent, while not tackling quite such weighty aspects of South American history, The Wages of Fear also bore new relevance after having visited Ecuador.

The most recent films we’ve watched include Renoir’s The Grand Illusion, which would be the oldest film he’s watched thus far; it’s from 1939, and Melville’s Un Flic, both in French, and of course Pather Panchali, 1955, in Bengali.

Verisimilitude in war films

For reasons not worth explaining, I’ve seen the 2014 movie Fury, which follows a Sherman tank crew behind enemy lines in the waning days of WWII.

I wasn’t impressed.

The ‘morning after’ sensation is even worse.

The quest for authenticity and realism in combat does not get us closer to truth.

The quest for authenticity and realism in depictions of combat does not inherently multiply a film’s ability to mean.

I trace the modern version of this quest back to the execrable, lamentable, unwatchable Platoon. I distinctly remember conversations about its authenticity, based on the fact that its director served in a platoon in Vietnam. Later, the equally unwatchable, and equally manipulative Saving Private Ryan continued the trend of amplifying the aesthetics of authenticity–which is a laughable conceit given the essential artifice of filmmaking in the first place–with a particular emphasis on the realism of the D-Day landing. No punches pulled, apparently.

Fury takes its cues from both of its predecessors, and attempts to raise the stakes again, and to me, mostly plays as an empty exercise in style, abetted by abundant, and not always terribly convincing CGI.

But audiences will have their guts.

They will have their guts, accurate depictions of what exactly a .50 caliber round does to an ankle, their wonderfully mesmerizing cascades of rainbow hued tracer fire, pancaked, incinerated human bodies, and particles of flying flesh, god help them.

Pather Panchali

I introduced Kiowa to Satyajit Ray and the timelessly beautiful Pather Panchali this weekend. It was at the limit of quietness and pace for what he’ll find engrossing, but as he has with other challenging films for an 11 year old–Bresson’s A Man Escaped, particularly comes to mind–he nonetheless becomes involved and committed. He knows he can really bail out if he wants to, but he stays with it, and I really admire that about it.

As it relates more directly to me, it’s been quite a few years since I watched Pather Panchali, and not only is it as beautiful and profound and delightful as I ever remembered, it’s actually even MORE beautiful and profound and delightful.

In fact, I’m sure I wasn’t a father yet when I last watched it, and that may be adding to the richness of this film.

What a marvel of poetry.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it for the last three days. I want to go back in to it again and just stay there.

Theorizing a future

This’ll be unruly, but after reading the preceding David Graeber piece last night, I thought of the work of Timothy Morton and Derrick Jensen, and the thought occurred to me that these three are helping to articulate something like a practical philosophy well-suited towards creating a pro-humanity, pro-life, anti-capitalist, anti-growth future.

In trying to do a quick online search of something related, I landed on this page, devoted to what it positions as five essential texts on Radical Environmentalism and I’m absolutely delighted by the unexpected choices contained therein, most especially so by the inclusion of Ralph Ellison and Emily Dickinson.

Dickinson in particular I have adored most of my adult life, and celebrated as one of our most profound poets and thinkers–through her writing.

The Argonauts crossed my path just yesterday, in this interesting piece on Heteropessimism, by way of a friend. I must confess to not recalling or having been aware of Maggie Nelson’s book, but given Indiana Seresin’s description as “a book once so rabidly popular among women and queers that my first copy was swiped from my bag at a dyke bar in 2016,” I’m very interested.

Additionally, I admire the writing of Solnit, and anything thoughtful, theoretical, and useful on anarchism is 100% up my alley.

David Graeber

Freedom has become the right to share in the proceeds of one’s own permanent enslavement.

Graeber, nearly as always, speaks more closely to my core inclinations than just about any other public theorist and activist.

My FB comment in response to the friend who shared it:

Shatteringly correct.

I’ve read him as much as I can, and one evening had the pleasure of actually talking with him about exactly what he’s written about here.

So much that’s written here is what I struggle with on a nearly daily basis–how to actualize and disentangle myself/us as far as possible from capitalism and all of the insidious social structures he’s described.